ATLANTA — With the SEC Championship Game and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game on the line, Alabama’s sensational freshman duo of running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper delivered big time for Alabama on Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.
Trailing 28-25 and facing third down and five yards to go at midfield, Yeldon slithered his way for just enough yardage to keep Alabama’s drive alive.
On the next snap, Cooper snared AJ McCarron’s lofting 45-yard pass for the winning score as No. 2 Alabama rallied past Georgia 32-28 to earn a chance at a second straight national championship.
Yeldon finished with 153 yards, including a 10-yard TD run and 2-point conversion, on a game-high 25 carries.
Cooper caught seven passes for 127 yards and the winning score.
Yeldon declined interview requests after the game, according to an Alabama sports information representative, but Lacy had plenty to say about his fellow running back.
“T.J. played just like he has every other week,” Lacy said. “He’s got a great mind. He’s in a big situation but he doesn’t get rattled. It’s like he has been here three times himself.
“As a freshman, you can’t ask him to play any better than he did tonight. He came out and executed. When his number was called, he made big plays. From an offensive standpoint, that’s what we asked for from him. He was able to come out and do it.”
Lacy said it was important for Yeldon to give him a break, but even more so for the 6-foot-2, 216-pound back to have success when he was in the backfield.
“When he did come in, he just picked up right where we left off offensively,” Lacy said. “That’s the most important part, and he came out and did that.”
Lost in amidst the fantastic finish was that Yeldon set a freshman rushing record at Alabama. He came in needing 44 yards to break Terry Grant’s mark of 891 yards in a season set in 2007. He nearly got the record in the first half when he had 43 yards and now has 1,000 yards this season.
A second-quarter run covering 13 yards showcased all of his talent. Taking a simple handoff from McCarron, Yeldon cut the play to his right to find an opening. He sidestepped one Georgia defender before the first contact came. He then proceeded to carry three more defenders an extra four or five yards before finally being wrestled to the ground.
While Yeldon came up with tough yards, Cooper was spectacular in addition to the game-winning touchdown catch. Early in the second quarter, Cooper bailed out the Tide from poor field position with an acrobatic 44-yard catch in which he outleaped Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo and juggled the ball on the way to the ground before hauling it in.
The touchdown catch was a thing of beauty as McCarron found him behind Damian Swann for the winning score.
“I knew we were going to take some shots down the field in this game,” said Cooper, who will play in the championship game in his hometown of Miami. “As receivers, we want to take those shots and that’s what we did.”
Cooper said the winning pass came on a post route in which he had the option to release inside or outside.
“I released inside and I saw him bite hard and I went straight,” Cooper said. “I didn’t see AJ, so I kind of stopped. I saw the ball in the air and said, ‘Oh, shoot, I got to go get it.’ That’s how it went.”
Cooper said he thought the pass was thrown too far.
“I caught up to it and caught it and scored,” he said.
Cooper’s seven catches were more than half of McCarron’s 13 completions, and it’s his final catch that will the one talked about the most for at least the next month and beyond.
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or Gregg.email@example.com. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.