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Alabama's offensive line answers the call

ATLANTA – Rewind back to August when everybody was handicapping Alabama’s chances of being a player in this year’s SEC championship race.

There were concerns at quarterback, and there were concerns in the offensive line.

Imagine that, because quarterback and the offensive line were two of the best positions on the field Saturday in Alabama’s 32-13 pummeling of Florida in the SEC championship game.

The truth is there were a lot of stars for the Crimson Tide. They played a near-flawless game, committing just one penalty for 5 yards and not turning the ball over a single time.

But the way the Alabama offensive line took control of the game in the second half makes you wonder why everybody was fretting over those guys in the first place back in August.

After all, it was only a couple of All-Americans (Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell) that the Crimson Tide lost off that star-studded line a year ago.

“We’ve come together during the season, and we’re all tight and close and I love these other four guys,” said redshirt freshman right guard Barrett Jones, one of three first-year starters on the offensive line. “We’ve always been confident. A lot of people doubted us, but we knew we could be just as good, if not better, than last year. That was our goal.

“Everybody was talking about the offensive line being a question. Our goal was to be better than last year, and that’s what we set out to do.”

It’s hard to argue with anything the Crimson Tide did up front Saturday. They mauled a Florida defense that hadn’t given up much of anything this season and rolled up 251 rushing yards. Quarterback Greg McElroy had plenty of time to throw most of the game and was only sacked once.

In the second half, it was obvious that Alabama was exerting its will against a Florida defense that lost its stinger.

“We never said, ‘OK, we’re ahead now,’ ” said senior left guard Mike Johnson, the veteran of the unit. “We just played the next play and kept pushing and did the things that had gotten us here.

“I didn’t even look up. I didn’t want to know what the score was.”

In addition to Jones, Alabama also plugged junior college newcomer James Carpenter in at left tackle and sophomore William Vlachos in at center. Senior Drew Davis was the other holdover at right tackle.

“We pushed from the beginning, from January on,” Johnson said. “We got James in here and filled that other guard spot with Barrett, and we just started jelling.

“We’ve come a long way, and you can see it now … 13-0 and we’re going to California.”

The Crimson Tide played well enough up front that sophomore running back Mark Ingram may have vaulted right back to the top of the Heisman Trophy picture.

All the ballots have to be in by Monday, but Ingram finished with 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns and also caught two passes for 76 yards.

He said there was one overriding mentality that the entire team played with Saturday.

“We just weren’t going to be denied and had the attitude that we were going to do whatever it took not to be denied, all our heart, all our soul, everything,” Ingram said. “We weren’t going to lose this game.”

As for the Heisman Trophy, he said his interest in winning it is for the Alabama people. Alabama has never had a Heisman winner.

“It would be great to represent them and maybe bring back a trophy for them,” Ingram said.