Instead of traipsing behind enemy lines this weekend – Seth and Mark served us well for the Georgia and Alabama games – we go neutral, catching up with ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN). Dude knows his stuff, as I found out when he covered Auburn against Mississippi State and LSU … and he’ll be among the masses covering this national semifinal also known as the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Let’s go 5 Questions-style, for old times’ sake.
Aaron Brenner, WarEagleExtra.com: Both Georgia and Alabama had their gut-check moments this year: the Bulldogs got slaughtered at South Carolina and momentum was slow to return, while the Crimson Tide were knocked off on their own field by Texas A&M and nearly taken out of the national title picture. Is there a hidden advantage to being humbled on the way to the postseason?
Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com: I think so. Obviously, no team ever wants to lose, but when you have so much talent and everyone is telling you just how good you are, it can be nice to get humbled in some form or fashion. For Alabama and Georgia, their humbling moments came from losses. Jarvis Jones told me this week that losing that game made the defense realize how great it wasn’t. It made those players realize that talent alone wasn’t going to win games. They had to come together more as a unit and they had to throw away the arrogance. They knew how talented they were, but they weren’t playing like it. For Alabama, I think it just made them mad. They’d heard about how there were holes in the secondary and they showed it against LSU and A&M. You know how much those Alabama players/coaches hate being told they aren’t perfect.
Brenner: AJ McCarron has the big-game clutch gene, but Aaron Murray has the big-time stats. Who has the advantage Saturday at quarterback?
Aschoff: I think McCarron does. The first year that he was a starter, he played in and won the national championship. Remember, he hasn’t been here in the SEC Championship before. He went straight to the big game, but he played arguably his best game in an Alabama uniform. And the coaches told him they wanted him to control the game, not Trent Richardson. That’s huge. Murray has historically struggled in big games. He has just three wins against Top-25 teams and if not for an awful offensive performance from Florida, he wouldn’t even be in Atlanta after he threw three interceptions against the Gators. He told me this spring that he has a tendency to take on too much responsibility in big games and loses trust in his players. That makes him force throws, which lead to turnovers. He can’t be “Big Game Aaron” on Saturday because the pressure is on, and there’s more on him than McCarron.
Brenner: Manti Te’o gets all this talk about Heisman candidacy, but none of that seems to go Jarvis Jones’ way. Where do you rank Jones nationally, and how huge a game does he need to have to give Georgia a chance?
Aschoff: He is a game-changer. He’s like a bigger, stronger, more terrifying version of the Honey Badger. He finds ways to get to every play. He hunts the ball down like the Tyrann Mathieu did at LSU last year. Just look at the Florida game. You could argue that the Bulldogs don’t win that game without Jones making all of those plays. If he hadn’t have been injured this season, I think he’d get a lot more love nationally. Te’o is great, but you could argue that Jones, Damontre Moore (Texas A&M) and Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) are just as good, if not better in the way that they dominate and change games. Georgia needs him to have a big game because Alabama is extremely balanced and Jones has the ability to take take momentum away.
Brenner: The cheapest ticket on StubHub for the SEC Championship Game is floating around $300. You can get in pretty easily to the ACC title game for 3 bucks. What does this tell us?
Aschoff: That tells you that the SEC championship game is the hottest ticket in the country because it actually means something every year. You’ll see Gators fans, LSU fans and Gamecocks fans at this thing because it is a semi-final for the national championship game and it has been for the last seven years. No other conference can say that, especially the ACC.
Brenner: Straight up, who do you like to run this town Saturday night? Tide or Dawgs?
Aschoff: I have the Tide winning 28-17. I just think that Alabama is angry. The Tide wanted to be undefeated and wanted to prove the doubters wrong. It didn’t help getting into the national championship. It destroyed its last two inferior opponents and it wants to do the same to Georgia. I don’t think Georgia’s line can keep Murray upright all game and I just think that with some of these players seeing two national championships before, the bright lights won’t get to Alabama. Did I mention that Alabama is angry and is ready to prove people wrong again?