10 things I liked about championship week in the SEC
With a 54-16 victory over Florida, Alabama signed its ticket to the College Football Playoff and capped the 2016 season in the SEC.
The game wasn’t pretty, especially early, but it was entertaining. There were a lot of great moments Saturday afternoon, but some stood out more than others.
Here are 10 things I liked about championship week in the SEC.
Another dominant Alabama victory: This one didn’t start out the way many expected, as Florida scored on its opening possession and Alabama had a three-and-out. Despite an uncharacteristic first half, though, the Crimson Tide still held a 33-16 lead over the Gators at halftime thanks to two (more) non-offensive touchdowns.
In the second half, Alabama looked like the much better team and cruised to the third-highest point total in SECCG history. The Crimson Tide gained 200 yards during the last two quarters while holding the Gators to just 70. It was the second half Alabama needed before preparing for another Playoff run.
Florida’s opening drive: The Gators’ offense hasn’t been one of the SEC’s best in 2016, but it certainly looked like it on their opening drive against Alabama. Covering 64 yards in 10 plays and converting three times on third down, Florida became the first team to score a touchdown on the Crimson Tide’s defense since Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) December 3, 2016
Alabama’s non-offensive touchdowns: The Crimson Tide went four games without scoring a non-offensive touchdown, breaking a 10-game streak that started last season. In its SEC championship game victory, Alabama earned its 13th and 14th non-offensive touchdowns, tying the 2011 Southern Miss team for most in a season since 1996.
Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off a poor pass from Austin Appleby and returned it 44 yards for Alabama’s first touchdown of the game. That was soon followed by a 27-yard touchdown by Joshua Jacobs after a blocked punt.
Gators receivers: Although Appleby was inconsistent, Florida’s receivers gave him plenty of chances. Against a banged up Alabama secondary, the Gators threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
DeAndre Goolsby caught 7 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Powell added 9 passes for 59 yards, and Antonio Callaway reeled in 4 passes for 63 and a score. The Gators moved the ball largely because of their receivers’ ability to make plays.
The Crimson Tide’s run defense: Florida’s receivers had some success, but that was the only offense the Gators could muster. Alabama held Florida to only zero rushing yards Saturday. The Gators were in the red until their final possession.
It was the fewest rushing yards in SEC championship game history, breaking a record that Alabama tied last season, when it held Florida to 15.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) December 3, 2016
Alabama’s running back trio: While Jalen Hurts has been a nightmare for defenses on the ground, Florida did a good job containing him. The Crimson Tide’s 234 yards were the result of a combined effort from Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs.
Scarbrough led the way with 91 yards and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries. It was the third time in his past give games that he reached 90 yards.
Harris pitched in 86 yards on 8 carries and Jacobs gained 35 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries. Hurts gained just 1 yard on 8 carries.
Running the ball will be important for the Crimson Tide in the Playoff, and this was a positive showing.
The crazy end of the first quarter: In the closing minutes of the first quarter, madness occurred. Alabama blocked Florida’s punt and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. During the Crimson Tide’s extra point attempts, the Gators blocked the kick and returned it the distance for two points. It was a head-scratching series of events, but certainly entertaining.
Following a blocked punt TD for Bama, Gators block the PAT and return for 2 points! pic.twitter.com/jeghOyt2xN
— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) December 3, 2016
Reuben Foster: Alabama’s defense is full of players who are capable of taking over games and filling up stat sheets. Foster, a senior linebacker who leads the Crimson Tide in tackles, made plays all over the field in the Georgia Dome.
En route to earning MVP honors, Foster finished 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks. His effort was apparent as the Crimson Tide shut down the Gators’ running game and harassed Appleby much of the afternoon.
Reuben Foster will make you pay. https://t.co/Toj8bZcspa
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 3, 2016
Johnny Townsend: Florida didn’t have many individuals who stood out, but Townsend was one. The punter averaged 54.5 yards per kick and drilled a 62-yarder in the second quarter. He had a punt blocked and failed to make anything positive happen on a botched trick play, but Townsend had no problems kicking the ball Saturday.
Verne Lundquist’s sendoff: After a remarkable career in broadcasting, Lundquist signed off for the last time after the SEC championship game. His voice has accompanied some of sport’s greatest moments over the past 30 years, and he has been a regular part of Saturdays in the SEC.
CBS gave Lundquist a fitting tribute in a video shown on air after the championship game. Following the tribute, Gary Danielson thanked his partner for all of his work over the years and the two shared a touching moment. It was a strong ending to the 2016 season.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) December 4, 2016