Alabama's offensive line paves the way

ATLANTA -- Barrett Jones could barely walk, but it really didn’t matter.

He could have floated out of the Georgia Dome on Saturday evening.

His left foot was still throbbing long after Alabama's 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game, and he was hobbling around on crutches.

From the first quarter on, Jones was essentially playing on one leg after suffering an injury to his left foot.

“I knew my teammates needed me. It never crossed my mind to come out of the game,” said Jones, Alabama’s senior center and one of the pillars of a Crimson Tide offensive line that took matters into its own hands when it looked like Georgia might be on its way to blocking Alabama’s path to history.

“There were a lot of questions before the game about who was the more physical team. I’d say most of those questions were answered.”

That’s a safe assumption, especially given the way Alabama battered and bruised Georgia’s defensive front seven to the tune of 350 rushing yards.

“We just said, ‘We can’t be stopped and are going to run the ball down their throats,' and that’s what we did today,” Alabama junior offensive tackle D.J. Fluker said.

Over and over again, Alabama pounded the middle of that Georgia defense with the one-two punch of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, each of whom rushed for more than 100 yards. Lacy romped for 181 yards and Yeldon 153 yards.

“The whole team’s hungry, and hungry dogs run faster,” Fluker said.

For Alabama’s team, it’s a run that will culminate in the BCS National Championship Game for the third time in the past four years.

The release of the final BCS standings Sunday night will make it official, but Alabama will face Notre Dame on Jan. 7 in Miami in the Discover BCS National Championship Game.

An Alabama win in South Florida would give the Crimson Tide their third outright national championship in the past four years, something that hasn’t been accomplished in college football since Notre Dame pulled it off in 1946, 1947 and 1949.

“We’re still trying to savor this one,” said Jones, who insisted he would be ready to go in time for the national title game. “I know it’s an emotional thing, and I know I said the same thing after the LSU game. But this is my favorite win since I’ve been here, just the way we hung in there and fought through some things that happened to us.”

After Georgia’s Alec Ogletree returned a blocked field goal 55 yards for a touchdown with 6:31 to play in the third quarter, Alabama looked to be in real trouble. The Bulldogs led 21-10 and had all the momentum.

“We never panicked, and we wanted the game on our shoulders,” Jones said.

And why not?

Four of the five starters on Alabama’s offensive line probably will be selected in the top three rounds of the NFL draft, and it’s a group that has played some of its best football on the biggest stages.

“It’s a feeling you get,” Alabama sophomore offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. “We’re not going to let up and are going to keep on keeping on.

“It’s a great feeling to have the game in our hands and carry the team.”

Alabama gained 198 of its 350 rushing yards in the second half. Jones said the Crimson Tide ran the same zone running play five straight times on their second of back-to-back touchdown drives after Georgia went ahead 21-10.

In those two drives, Alabama had 12 offensive plays and ran the ball on 11 of them. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide scored on a two-point conversion to cap their first scoring drive of the second half and ran it straight up the gut with Yeldon.

“That’s your favorite thing as an offensive lineman, when you know it’s a run and they know it’s a run and they still can’t stop it,” Jones said.

It was a sobering dose of reality for Georgia, which won’t have any shortage of players drafted on defense over the next couple of years.

But on Saturday, when it counted up front, it was a mismatch.

“They just lined up and played inside drill for a while,” Georgia coach Mark Richt lamented. “We finally got a stop somewhere along the way. But a couple of drives, they just. ... I don’t even know if they threw it. It might have been one pass and two drives or something like that, but they just lined up and knocked us off the ball.”

Alabama’s dominance between the tackles was most glaring. The Crimson Tide averaged 8 yards per carry on inside runs, including a season-high 13 that gained 10 yards or more. Lacy and Yeldon each gained more than 100 yards between the tackles.

“You play every play like it’s your last play, and you could tell they were wearing down,” Fluker said.

And while the Alabama players rejoiced in their first SEC championship since 2009, Kouandjio said the only game that counts now is the one a little more than a month away.

“We haven’t fulfilled anything until after that game,” Kouandjio said. “We haven’t fulfilled anything until we have a victory in January.”