'Unbelievable toughness'

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For a time, the monster looked human. Jesse Williams, Alabama's hulking nose guard, lay in a heap on the Astroturf, grasping at his knee. Anguish crossed his tattooed face. His sly grin vanished along with his superhuman persona.

The monster needed help off the field. He couldn't do it himself. A pair of trainers had to give the 6-foot-4, 320-pound giant a hand. Williams limped gingerly to the sidelines and waited to hear the bad news.

For a time, the monster hid under the covers. Williams shut himself away from the doctors and trainers at the end of the bench with a towel over his head. The game disappeared.

"I thought everything was done for me," he said.

On the season's biggest stage, with a national championship berth on the line, Williams fell. His knee got rolled up at the line of scrimmage and it looked as if the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide would have to face the Georgia Bulldogs without him.

But the self-proclaimed "Monstar" waited out the injury and tried again. Trainers wrapped his knee and attached a brace to it. Williams flexed and tried to apply pressure to it. It hurt, but pain is something he's more than familiar with. For 12 Saturdays this season, the brooding Aussie has been the one tasked with dishing it out.

"When I realized it wasn't as serious as I thought, I knew I could push through the pain," he said. "I pushed with everything I had."

Williams paced the sidelines over and over and over, a trainer shadowing his every move. He wiggled his knee and tucked down into a three-point stance and pushed off. He took two swigs of Gatorade, grabbed his helmet and found his position coach on the edge of the field. He was going in, even if it was on one good knee or none at all.

UA defensive line coach Chris Rumph tried to put Williams' attitude into words: "That unbelievable toughness from Down Under."

A few minutes later Williams came on as an extra blocker on offense. His big body and even bigger presence was needed. He lined up at fullback and rose out of his crouch at the snap, barreling headlong into the defensive line. Eddie Lacy, Alabama's starting tailback who has dealt with turf toe all season, followed his embattled teammate into the end zone to give his team the lead.

That's the way it would go in Atlanta -- the wounded Crimson Tide fighting back and overcoming a season of bumps and bruises to beat Georgia 32-28 to win the SEC championship.

UA head coach Nick Saban called Lacy, who racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, "relentless." He used words such as "physical" to describe his running style and praised his ability to finish the play.

"He's a very physical runner and he made it difficult for them to tackle him," Saban said of Lacy, who helped the Tide set an SEC title game record with 350 rushing yards. "Our offensive line does a good job of making some of the holes, but Eddie did a very good job of finishing those runs and being very physical.

"Eddie did as fine a job as anybody has ever done for us in terms of the way he played today."

Saban's defensive coordinator had similar words for his star on the other side of the ball. Williams, Alabama's candidate for both the Outland and Bronko Nagurski trophies, has taken on double- and triple-teams all season and led the stop scoring defense in the country.

"Great toughness," Kirby Smart said of Williams. "He's a great kid. All our kids had a heart of gold tonight. They got hit in the mouth and they responded."

Alabama needed every bit of strength and determination from Williams, Lacy and everyone else sporting crimson and white on Saturday afternoon. Georgia gave everything it had and then some.

"We kind of had that I-would-not-be-denied attitude," Saban said after the game, calling the contest a test of his team's mettle.

Williams passed his test, even if it took the aid of a brace to get him through it. He and the Crimson Tide took the SEC championship by force of will.

Safety Robert Lester said that's the thing about his team: "That's why I love about playing with these guys. They're hungry and there's just about nothing that's going to stop them."