ATLANTA— They have been the subject of complaints, frustration and several busted plays this season. They often get brought up only when being criticized.
But facing arguably the best defensive front in the country in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday night, the Alabama offensive line was up for the challenge.
A week after giving up seven sacks against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide line of Evan Neal, Javion Cohen, Seth McLaughlin, Emil Ekiyor and Chris Owens did not allow a sack against the Bulldogs in the 41-24 win.
Throughout media availabilities during the week leading up to the game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said he wanted to see the offensive line play more physical, and that's exactly what they did against the crew of Jordan Davis, Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Nakobe Dean.
"I think the offensive line really answered the challenge that we put to them in terms of them being more physical in this game," Saban said after the win. "They probably prepared a little better than I've ever seen them all season long in terms of studying the guys they had to block and the things they had to do. I think we did a little bit better job in terms of having some protection multiples that maybe we didn't always get as many guys out in the pass routes, but we also gave the quarterback time to operate."
The Bulldogs came into the game second in the SEC (behind Alabama) in sacks, and could not get any Saturday. They also had only four tackles for loss.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young did have much more time to throw (and run) thanks to his offensive line and may have just sealed the Heisman trophy in the process.
Young finished with 421 yards and three touchdowns through the air with another 40 yards and touchdown on the ground.
"All the success that we have offensively, it always starts up front," Young said. "People try to only say negative things about offensive lines in general and about our O-line, but you don't understand that every time there's a positive play, whether it's the run game, the pass game, whatever it is, nothing starts without our O-line. They did an amazing job today. They stepped up to the plate, and I'm happy to have the guys that I do."
Georgia came into the title game leading the country in scoring defense, allowing only 6.9 points per game. The most points they had allowed in any single game was 17 to Tennessee. Alabama had 24 points at halftime and 41 total.
To open the game, Alabama struggled to get things going offensively. They were outgained 159-46 at the end of the first quarter with zero points. Then, things turned around in the second quarter when Alabama set the SEC Championship Game record for points in a quarter with 24.
Saban credited the efficiency of the offensive line for a large part of the success in the second quarter and for the remainder of the game.
"It still goes back to the offensive line did a very, very good job of allowing us to get the ball down the field and our receivers to be able to work in the passing game, which we knew was going to be something that was going to be really important in this game," Saban said. "So it really started up front.”
The Crimson Tide also had success on the ground with 115 rushing yards. Alabama put up 536 total yards of offense which was 149 more than the previous high total of 387 given up by the Bulldogs against Tennessee. Georgia was No. 1 in the country in yards allowed at 230.4.
Normally, Alabama hears "rat poison" about how good they are, but this week they had the unique opportunity of being the underdog and hearing about how good Georgia was, particularly the Bulldogs' front.
"Obviously, that's a great front, a great defense, and we knew that coming in," Young said. "I think they just kept hearing it and hearing it. Like Coach said, they accepted the challenge, and they really stepped up to the plate in the biggest moment in the season."