ATLANTA -- Georgia's defense didn't have an answer for Alabama at the line of scrimmage Saturday. No. 1 Notre Dame might not have the solution, either, when the national championship is up for grabs on Jan. 7 in Miami. The Fighting Irish's stout defense and strong front seven will have its say, but for now, it's clear to many that the best offensive line in the country belongs to Alabama.
"We all want to be great," Alabama guard Chance Warmack said. "We don't want to settle for average, we all want to be exceptional."
At the Georgia Dome, in the biggest game of the season, the Tide proved to be the furthest thing from ordinary, beating Georgia 32-28 in the SEC championship game behind another outstanding performance from the ground game.
Alabama entered the weekend averaging an SEC-best 6 yards per carry on designed running plays. When the Tide want yards, they take yards, and one needs to look no further than the trenches to understand why. Tide tailbacks average 4.2 yards before contact while the big uglies are doing all their dirty work.
Before long, only a few microphones stood at attention as Alabama's Lombardi Award candidate discussed what he and his fellow linemen had just accomplished in Atlanta. A drowsy haze set into Warmack's eyes. Alabama's veteran left guard was done with the battle of a lifetime and the media circus was just about over. For the 6-foot-3, 320-pound junior, it appeared getting on the bus and falling asleep was the No. 1 priority. The party wore out the Crimson Tide's old soul.
Alabama knocked out the Bulldogs in thrilling fashion, landing body punch after body punch, courtesy of the offensive line. Quarterback AJ McCarron threw the haymaker to win the game -- yet it was set up by a play-action fake. The Bulldogs flinched, and who could blame them? Alabama ran the ball 51 times for 350 yards, the most in SEC championship game history.
Of those yards, 87 percent came between the tackles, leaving the gut of the Georgia defense black and blue.
"This is a special thing, man," Warmack said after the game. "It's a special feeling to be a part of a group of guys who love each other and do anything for each other, on and off the field. They're genuinely good guys and we all want to do well.
"We executed. When we make a mistake, we pick each other up. When one person makes a mistake, everybody is picking that person up, and that's what it's about."
Not many errors were made by Warmack and Co. this year. From the season opener on, they've been heralded as the top line in the country and every week they've lived up to the billing. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said it was the best offensive line he'd seen in college football, and just about every other coach who saw the Tide came away with the same impression.
"It's one of the best I've seen on tape," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said in late September. "That's why they are where they're ranked now and why they're in the national championship hunt."
Some two months later, Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio summed up the Tide line's domination of Georgia: "We would not be denied."
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound sophomore is one of four likely future NFL draft picks on the line. He said getting 350 yards on the ground was nice, but "We could do better."
Notre Dame will test that theory. The Irish have the fifth-ranked rush defense in the country and a Heisman Trophy finalist at linebacker in Manti Te'o. The Irish defense won't present an easy task for Alabama, but that's how the season has gone all along. The offensive line has proved itself up to the challenge week in and week out, so what's another battle of wills?
"When you want to be great, you want to play great people," Warmack said.
Warmack was still living in the moment, though. Notre Dame seemed to be the farthest thing from his mind. The grind of an SEC schedule caught up with him in the cool halls of the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs gave the Tide everything they could handle.
"We played against a great defense today," he said. "We're going to get better from this."
But first, he'd like some rest. He'll catch up with Notre Dame another day.