The SEC Championship game, which just happened to be the nation’s semifinal game, featured some unreal freshmen talent. It just speaks to the magnitude and impact that SEC-ready freshmen can have on stacked teams in big games. The SEC is set up for years to come with this freshmen class having such a massive impact on the outcome of the SEC Championship last night.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Cooper made the biggest play of the game for Alabama when he caught AJ McCarron’s 45-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The play was largely effective due to Alabama’s ability to really run it down Georgia’s throats all night. Cooper caught seven passes for 127 yards and one touchdown, averaging 18.1 yards per catch. He plays like a veteran, and he’s built like a veteran. But the true freshman has really emerged throughout the season as McCarron’s go-to receiver in the clutch, and the big play receiver on the Tide’s offense. Cooper is the Tide’s biggest play-making receiver since Julio Jones.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: I’ve said it all season: Todd Gurley is the best running back in the SEC as a freshman. You give me one back in the SEC to choose from, and I’m taking Gurley. Usually freshmen hit a wall somewhere about midway through the season, but Gurley is one of the exceptions. He delivered one of his best performances all season against Bama’s defense, and he did it by running straight into the teeth of the defense. Gurley’s yards after contact have to be one of the best averages in all of college football. He’s the total package at running back. Gurley rushed 23 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns, leading the charge for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Jay Rome, TE, Georgia: The sight of Jay Rome making plays at tight end is encouraging for Bulldogs fans. Rome has all the athletic ability in the world, but even his coaches have criticized him for not practicing hard and maximizing his ability. However, we saw a glimpse of what we’ll see for a few years on Saturday with his 19-yard touchdown reception for the first score of the game. That was the only pass he caught all night.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Much like Gurley, TJ Yeldon saved his best for last, too. You can certainly make a case for Yeldon to have an edge against Gurley, as Yeldon is able to stay fresher than Gurley throughout the course of a game and a season because he splits carries with Eddie Lacy. Yeldon has the uncanny knack, power, footwork, explosiveness and speed to be an elite running back, not only the SEC, but at the next level, too. Yeldon rushed 25 times for 153 yards and one touchdown in Atlanta.
Other Impact Freshmen:
Jordan Jenkins, DE, Georgia: Jordan Jenkins is the next Jarvis Jones. You just don’t know Jenkins yet because he’s a freshman. But he’s a true hybrid outside linebacker or defensive end that Todd Grantham’s defense needs in the next several years. He’s a strong player, and he’s going to be massive for the Bulldogs in the coming years.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia: Marshall has had a huge impact throughout the season, rushing for 723 yards, but he was nearly invisible against Alabama. Why? Gurley is the perfect power back against a tough, physical Alabama defense. The game just got to a point where Gurley was much more important than Marshall. It happens in some football games, and the SEC Championship just took a turn in that direction. Marshall only carried two times for three yards. Nonetheless, you can’t understate how important Marshall has been for this club over the long haul.
John Theus, OL, Georgia: Theus has started all 13 games for Georgia at right tackle as a true freshman, and he’s only going to get better. He had a ton of hype coming in as a blue chip recruit, and he’s certainly lived up to it. Theus will be a staple on Georgia’s line for the next few years.
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