Paschall: Will Alabama keep it close in SEC title game with Georgia?

Crimson Tide photos / Alabama sophomore outside linebacker Will Anderson (31) racked up 11 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss as the Crimson Tide clinched the SEC West title with Saturday's 42-35 outlasting of Arkansas.

Minutes after the 2021 Southeastern Conference championship game matchup between No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama became official, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman was handed the role of initial analyst.

Pittman's Razorbacks had just come up short against the Crimson Tide 42-35 early Saturday evening inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, and he was asked to compare the SEC East and SEC West winners. The Hogs traveled to Athens in early October and were promptly slaughtered 37-0.

"I think it's a really good question," Pittman said. "I just don't want to answer it."

The comparative scores against Arkansas certainly favor the Bulldogs inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the same can be said about their matchups with Florida. While Alabama survived the Gators 31-29 in late September, the Bulldogs thumped them 34-7 late last month.

Tennessee is the only shared opponent with similar outcomes - the Volunteers having lost 52-24 to Alabama and 41-17 to Georgia in a three-week span - but even those results could be seen in Georgia's favor. After all, the Bulldogs led the Vols 41-10 midway through the fourth quarter, while Alabama led them just 31-24 early in the fourth.

After showing little desire to tackle the question, Pittman ultimately relented.

"Alabama throws the ball more than Georgia does," he said. "Georgia believes in turning around and hammering you and play-action off of it. They're both really good football teams."

Alabama and Georgia are meeting for just the third time in the SEC title game, with the Tide winning the first two in thrilling fashion, 32-28 in 2012 and 35-28 in 2018. The common thought before each of those was, "Can Georgia keep this thing close?"

This year, the more relevant question seems to be, "Can Alabama keep it tight?"


The Alabama-Arkansas game contained 77 combined points and 1,139 combined yards, but Tide sophomore outside linebacker Will Anderson stood out yet again with 11 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Hampton leads the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss that have resulted in 111 yards. He is tied for the national lead with 13.5 sacks.

"I can't say enough about the way that guy competes and the way he plays in games," coach Nick Saban said. "Even though people are trying to do something to block him, he still seems to be able to put pressure on the quarterback, and he can play the run well. When we can make five guys block five guys, somebody's got to block Will one-on-one, and that's helpful for him."


Florida parted ways Sunday with fourth-year coach Dan Mullen, who guided the Gators to the SEC East title last season. Mullen replaced Jim McElwain, who was fired in 2017 after guiding Florida to East crowns in 2015-16.

Only Vanderbilt will win fewer SEC games than the Gators, who fell to 5-6 overall and lost their seventh consecutive one-possession contest dating to last season with Saturday's 24-23 overtime setback at Missouri.

"We've got to find a way to make one extra play," Mullen said Saturday night. "That would be a seven-game swing, which would be a pretty big swing."

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin obviously felt the issues went much deeper. Mullen will be paid a $12 million buyout, with $6 million of that owed to him within the month.

"I think Dan is going to have other opportunities to go coach football and have success," Stricklin said Sunday.

photo AP photo by Chris O'Meara / Dan Mullen's time as Florida's head coach ended Sunday, when he was fired with the Gators set to face nonconference rival Florida State this week with bowl eligibility on the line.

Auburn is on its first three-game losing streak since Gene Chizik's disastrous 3-9 season in 2012, his fourth and final year guiding the Tigers on the Plains.

This year's struggles are on the heels of Auburn firing Gus Malzahn last December and paying him $21.5 million. Boise State's Bryan Harsin was hired as Malzahn's successor and had the Tigers at 6-2 and No. 12 in the country after their 31-20 win over Ole Miss on Oct. 30, but the past two weeks have yielded blown leads of 28-3 against Mississippi State and 14-0 versus South Carolina.

"We've got to put our guys in a better position to be successful as coaches, and right now we're not doing it," Harsin said. "We're not finishing games. We're not extending drives when we need points. We've got to be a lot more clutch in those situations than we have been.

"That's on me. I've got to help this football team be more consistent."

Had Auburn not blown those two double-digit leads, this week's Iron Bowl would be for the West crown. The reality, however, is that the Tigers will finish in the lower echelon of their division both on the field and in the rankings for the 2022 recruiting cycle.


Georgia's 56-7 whipping of Charleston Southern had long been decided when a familiar face worked his way into the game.

Redshirt sophomore receiver Dominick Blaylock, the stepson of former Chattanooga Lookouts investor John Woods, had two catches for 11 yards and a 10-yard punt return. It was Blaylock's first action since the 2019 SEC title game loss to LSU, when he tore his ACL. The 6-1, 205-pounder from Marietta tore his ACL again in August 2020.

"He's very smart and very intelligent, and he was able to jump right into the game plan," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "We just want to get Dom some confidence, and hopefully he can spin this into momentum."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.