LITTLE ROCK — Worried about a risky, high-stakes op, the blonde CIA agent received advice from her co-worker-friend who might turn out to be even more down the line.
"Going into battle is like blowing out a birthday candle," he told her in the season finale of the USA Network show.
Don’t over think it, he explained.
Apply that approach to Alabama vs. Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game today in Atlanta.
Considering that a spot in the BCS title game is at stake, there is a temptation to delve too deep. Instead, begin with turnovers — the happening that turns more games than any other when talent levels are relatively even.
Instead of thinking turnovers as takeaways, consider them extra opportunities to score, and that perspective doesn’t take into account how a fumble or interception affects field position, something that is at a premium when a low-scoring game is expected.
Explaining Alabama’s only loss of the year, the natural focus is the gee-whiz performance of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Equally important were three turnovers by the Crimson Tide:
—A.J. McCarron threw an interception at midfield in the first quarter. Four plays later, the Aggies were up 14-0.
—T.J. Yeldon fumbled at the Aggies’ 34 in the fourth quarter and two plays later a touchdown upped A&M’s lead to 12.
—McCarron threw a fourth-down interception at the A&M goal in the fourth quarter with less than two minutes to play.
Those two interceptions were the only ones that McCarron threw all year and that transitions to quarterback play, point No. 2 in the title game. A 66.6 percent passer this year, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was 11-of-31 (35.5 percent) in the Bulldogs’ only loss, 35-7 at South Carolina.
Murray is not talking to the media this week, an absence approved by coach Mark Richt. Linebacker Christian Robinson said it had nothing to do with the media or Murray trying to send a message. "He just wants to be completely ready and not have any distractions," Robinson said.
The Bulldogs barely topped 200 yards against South Carolina, including 109 passing by Murray. The junior explained the lack of offense by citing poor execution, a popular, all-encompassing excuse. Production, or lack thereof, might have something to do with the Gamecocks’ defense that held high-powered Clemson to a field goal in the final 46:22 last week in a rivalry game.
Step back from the Arkansas coaching search for 3 1-2 hours and watch what it takes to get to Atlanta.
Both teams run the ball, both teams play excellent defense, and Murray and McCarron are one-two in the quarterback ratings in the SEC, 20 points ahead of South Carolina’s Connor Shaw.
Mixed together, that recipe has worked well for years.
Considering the quality of the defenses, it is unlikely one team will line up and knock the other off the ball and that premise brings us full circle to the quarterbacks.
McCarron will miss wide receiver Kenny Bell, who suffered a broken leg in last week’s rout of Auburn. The junior has only caught 17 all year, but he has averaged 25.4 yards per. In half of Alabama’s games, he had a catch worth 34 yards or more.
On the other side, the Alabama secondary is not as good as the 2011 group that included Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, both among the first 17 players taken in the NFL draft. Murray will have some opportunities if his offensive line holds up, a refrain that was popular with Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson this year.
Consistently, the experts who endorse Alabama fall back on the presence of Nick Saban. Richt (117-39) can coach, too. Alabama wins two of three, but this might be game three.
GEORGIA 20, ALABAMA 17
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.