Rapid Reaction: Alabama bludgeons Florida to claim SEC Championship, remain unbeaten
ATLANTA – For a brief moment, Florida looked like it had a chance. It didn’t last long.
The Gators scored the first offensive touchdown allowed by the Alabama defense since Oct. 22 and had a 99-yard advantage in offensive production. But at the end of the first quarter, Alabama led 16-9 thanks to two non-offensive touchdowns and a field goal set up by the game’s first interception.
From there, the Crimson Tide truly started to roll, extending its lead to 33-16 at the half en route to a 54-16 victory in the SEC Championship Game.
The Tide’s point total was the third-most in the game’s 25-year history and paved the way for Nick Saban’s fifth SEC title at Alabama.
What it means
In the SEC, it’s still Alabama and everybody else. The Gators have two consecutive SEC East championships, and a pair of wins against the SEC West, but they’re still a long ways off from reaching the Crimson Tide’s level. Alabama can lose yards for a quarter on offense and still come away with 16 points and the lead.
Nick Saban’s squad marches into the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed with its third consecutive SEC Championship Game win.
What I liked
Alabama: After allowing an opening-drive score, the Crimson Tide defense more than made up for it the next two drives with back-to-back interceptions. The first pick by LB Shaun Dion Hamilton set up easy points off the return to the Florida 10-yard line. On UF’s following possession, SS Minkah Fitzpatrick gave Alabama a 10-7 the lead with a pick six. That was Alabama’s first non-offensive touchdown since Oct. 22.
It didn’t stop there. Derrick Gore blocked Johnny Townsend’s punt and Josh Jacobs took it in for Alabama’s second non-offensive touchdown of the quarter. The Crimson Tide had officially regained the momentum up 16-7 and taken control of the game.
The one time Florida had a chance to make things interesting, the Crimson Tide defense delivered a signature goal-line stand, stopping Florida four times from inside their own 2. The offense followed with a 98-yard touchdown drive to put the nail in the coffin, making it 40-16 with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Alabama limited the Gators to 0 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Jalen Hurts became the first true freshman quarterback to win the SEC Championship Game.
Florida: Jim McElwain and play-caller Doug Nussmeier did what they do best, and scripted an excellent opening scoring drive for the Gators. They made getting the ball to Antonio Callaway a point of emphasis, and the playmaker did his thing, making 3 catches for 46 yards, including the touchdown. They frequently tried lining up Callaway in the pistol, but were unable to get a big play out of the new look.
It came against prevent defense, but the Gators deserve some credit for executing a 92-yard scoring drive on the Alabama defense, running the two-minute drill to end the first half. Florida’s offensive line also deserves some praise for pass protection. Appleby often had time to throw, but made multiple terrible throws.
What I didn’t like
Alabama: The kicking game was truly sloppy between the blocked extra point and missed 40-yard field goal. To find problems with the Crimson Tide’s performance is to nitpick. Leave that to Coach Saban.
Florida: After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Gators had a golden opportunity starting at their own 41-yard line to set the tone with a double-digit lead. Austin Appleby threw a pass off his back foot into the middle of the field that resulted in an interception being taken to the UF 12-yard line. What could have been a 10- to 14-point lead instead was trimmed to just four.
In general, the Florida defense deserved better. The Gators gifted Alabama an easy 17 points on turnovers, it was the exact opposite of what had to happen if they were going to pull off the massive upset.
The Gators had a chance to get back in the game after a misdirection play to Lamical Perine set them up with 1st-and-Goal at the 2-yard line. They ran the ball three times, and Alabama dug in for three big stuffs. Florida went for it on fourth down, and TE DeAndre Goolsby got his hands on the ball but out of bounds. The goal-line stand kept Alabama’s 17-point lead intact, and it only got larger.
Alabama is onto the College Football Playoff, and will find out its assignment Sunday in the next step to repeating as national champions. Florida will likely land in a bowl game in the Sunshine State, and will try to avoid ending the season on a three-game losing skid in back-to-back years.