ATLANTA -- Alabama wants a spot in the College Football Playoff, and it did a fine job making its case again on Saturday. The No. 1 Crimson Tide took control late and routed No. 16 Missouri 42-13 to claim the program’s 24th SEC championship.
Here are three thoughts from Alabama’s win at the Georgia Dome.
1. Blake Sims just got it done for Alabama
The redshirt senior quarterback kept the Tide’s offense moving against Missouri’s vaunted front seven. Sims finished 23-of-27 passing for 262 yards with two touchdowns, while the Alabama attack reeled off 504 total yards, or 6.6 per play. Sims and the offense also went 9-of-13 on third down and didn’t turn the ball over.
Those who bought stock in Sims this preseason were few and far between. In August the college football world had already anointed Florida State transfer Jake Coker as the heir apparent to departed star AJ McCarron. Sims responded by winning the starting job and leading Alabama to another No. 1 ranking. By every indication, it will be one of four teams included in the inaugural playoff field.
Sims set a single-season record for passing yards at Alabama (3,250) a week after becoming the program's single-season leader in total offense. He was calm in the pocket and made plays with his feet. Tide coach Nick Saban’s hiring of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin might have seemed like a gamble when it happened, but the transition has been seamless behind Sims. The quarterback has been the key to one of the SEC’s most potent attacks.
2. Missouri lost its best player in the first half and couldn’t recover
Tigers defensive end Shane Ray entered Saturday as the SEC’s leader in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.5). He and fellow end Markus Golden comprised one of the league’s most disruptive line duos, a tandem that hoped to keep Alabama’s offense in check. But Ray didn’t stick around to make an impact.
Officials ejected Ray for targeting after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Sims early in the second quarter. Moments after Sims hit DeAndrew White for a 58-yard score, Ray launched into Sims, connecting with his helmet. When Ray was sent to the locker room, a big piece of Missouri’s defensive game plan went with him.
Mizzou’s defense never really recovered. Alabama scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter while Sims put on a passing clinic. Fans will never know for certain, but things might have been different if Ray played the entire game.
3. Alabama helped the SEC avoid its nightmare scenario
A Crimson Tide loss would have been bad news for the SEC. Had Missouri won, the conference’s résumé would’ve taken a significant hit. The Tigers lost at home to both Indiana and Georgia earlier this fall; they wouldn’t have had a playoff-caliber body of work even with an SEC championship. Alabama was the SEC’s lone shot at a playoff representative, and it certainly delivered.
Now, the Crimson Tide await their fate in the playoff rankings. They seem primed for a semifinal appearance in the Sugar Bowl, but their opponent remains unclear. The selection committee has shown a tendency to shake things up on a weekly basis. Still, Alabama did exactly what it needed to do.