ATLANTA -- It was hard to tell whether a 58-yard touchdown pass or the ejection of its most dynamic player was more of a gutting blow for Missouri, but that 1-2 punch, occurring on the same play Saturday, was the defining moment in an SEC Championship Game ultimately marked by Alabama's utter dominance in a 42-13 win.
Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims found DeAndrew White for a 58-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put the Crimson Tide ahead 14-3. Just after the pass was released, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray hit Sims with helmet-to-helmet contact, resulting in a targeting call and his ejection. The absence of Ray, one of the top pro prospects in the college game among underclassmen, might not have made much of a difference anyway, given the way Missouri's offense sputtered. But it undoubtedly dampened whatever fire Missouri hoped to fan for a comeback.
The win punched Alabama's ticket to college football's inaugural four-team playoff on what was another record-setting night for Crimson Tide star receiver Amari Cooper. The junior, like Ray a highly regarded underclassman among NFL scouts, broke the SEC record for receptions in a season with 115. Philadelphia Eagles rookie Jordan Matthews, who had held the previous mark, issued his congratulations via Twitter:
Cooper finished the game with an SEC Championship Game record 12 catches for 83 yards, and the Heisman Trophy candidate now has 1,656 receiving yards for the season with 14 touchdowns.
Missouri's offense relied heavily on the deep pass, and two long completions to Jimmie Hunt set up a 10-point third quarter for the Tigers that closed the gap to 21-13. Alabama's offense responded with a touchdown drive of its own, however, as senior wide receiver Christion Jones made three key catches on the series, including a 6-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-13. Soon after, Alabama had secured a blowout with help from a turnover and running back Derrick Henry (20 carries, 141 yards), who broke runs of 26 and 45 yards in the fourth quarter.