ATLANTA — A word of advice — or better yet, a warning — to whoever has the dubious honor of facing Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
“They’re going to have to come with their ‘A’ game,” said Landon Collins, the Crimson Tide strong safety and former Dutchtown star. “That’s what we come with every time we have a chance to play. Any team we get to play against, we’re going to play all four quarters in all phases and dominate as much as possible.”
Do your homework. Study Bama’s tendencies. You have a little over three weeks to try to sharpen your game to a fine edge and try to take down the Crimson Tide, most likely Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl.
Even that might not be enough.
Here in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, Missouri just didn’t have it. The Tigers were a scrappy bunch, but they dropped too many passes, left themselves with too many third-and-longs, watched quarterback Maty Mauk scramble for his life too many times in the face of a menacing pass rush to give Alabama more than a fleeting concern.
Sure, Mizzou rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit to get within 21-13 midway through the third quarter.
But Alabama just made a “Beep! Beep!” noise and zipped away from Missouri with three unanswered touchdowns to win 42-13. The Tigers should have changed their nickname to the Coyotes (as in Wile E. Coyote), because they had as much chance to hold back the Crimson Tide as that cartoon character had of making the Road Runner his afternoon snack.
Offensively, the Crimson Tide worked with precision and skill, like they were putting together Swiss watches.
Quarterback Blake Sims, the game’s MVP, was laser-guided accurate, completing 23 of 27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Amari Cooper played a game of hide-and-seek with the Mizzou secondary that the Tigers were doomed to lose, lining up left, then right, and almost always coming up open.
When he wasn’t catching passes, Cooper and the other Alabama receivers were helping block for Derek Henry (141 yards on 20 carries) or T.J. Yeldon or Sims himself. Their work downfield sealing off Missouri linebackers and defensive backs was oh-so-reminiscent of what Michael Clayton used to do when he was catching passes on Nick Saban’s watch at LSU.
Defensively, Missouri had the misfortune of taking on an Alabama defense that had its ego bruised last time out. The Tide got torched for 630 yards in a 55-44 victory over Auburn, a hollow victory for prideful players like Collins.
Missouri needed to run well to run with Alabama, but the Tigers just kept running into stone walls. Mizzou netted just 41 yards on 23 carries, a meager 1.8 yards per rush.
“We know we’re a run stop defense, and (Auburn) had too many yards on us,” Collins said. “We knew we had to come in here and prove a point, stop them from running the ball and make them get downfield (with the pass).”
Mauk may have been a choir boy in the past, because he had some big-time prayers answered to Jimmie Hunt for 32, 63 and 47 yards.
But it wasn’t nearly enough. Missouri was playing above its weight class and it showed.
Dreams of an SEC-less College Football Playoff for the rest of the country may dissolve into nightmares. Now that Bama is in the CFP, who’s in who’s heavyweight enough to knock the Crimson Tide off its track for a fourth national title since 2009?
Alabama looks confident and humming on all cylinders. Pipe-bursting pressure awaits in the playoffs, but even on that score the Tide has you covered. They burned up their margin for error way back on Oct. 4 when they lost at Ole Miss. They squeaked past Arkansas by a point, rallied to force then beat LSU in overtime and outgunned Mississippi State and Auburn.
Fatal reality is nothing new to Bama. The Tide has been well-seasoned in that regard with half a season of that kind of stress.
“Ever since the Ole Miss game, we knew we had a challenge and that every game counts,” Collins said. “That’s how we got here.”
That’s how they can go farther still. That’s why this SEC championship is probably not their last.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.