If Alabama was Georgia, the Crimson Tide might be claiming it came within three yards of defeating Florida by three touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta Saturday night. Instead, Bama took a 29-15 decision, letting the clock run out with a first-and-goal at the Gators 3.
That was somewhat easier than in 2012 when Alabama had to withstand a Georgia drive that finally ended at the Alabama 4 in a 32-28 Tide victory.
Although Alabama had its problems offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game, the Crimson Tide had enough to win its second consecutive SEC Championship Game and earn its way to its second straight College Football Playoff berth. The Tide will learn its playoff destination and opponent on Sunday.
First round games will be played Dec. 31 in Dallas and Miami with the national championhip game Jan. 11 in Phoenix.
Alabama, ranked second in the nation last week, is now 12-1. Florida is 10-3.
Derrick Henry didn’t make it to the 200-yard mark against the Gators, who had the SEC’s second (to Alabama) defense in the conference coming into the game, but the junior Alabama tailback rushed 44 times for 189 yards and a touchdown and was the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Senior Tide quarterback Jake Coker completed 18-26 passes for 204 yards and had touchdown passes of 32 yards to ArDarius Stewart and 9 yards to Richard Mullaney and Coker also ran 8 times for 23 yards.
Other Tide scores came on a safety on a blocked punt by Keith Holcombe and two field goals and three extra point kicks by Adam Griffith.
The SEC title extends Alabama’s record for championships to 25 and marks the first time since 1997-98 that a team had repeated as conference champion and the first time since 1978-79 that Alabama had achieved the feat.
Alabama led by 2-0 after the first quarter. The Tide fell behind by 7-2, but fought back to take a 12-7 lead at halftime. Bama outscored the Gators 10-0 in the third quarter while holding Florida to two total yards in that period as the Tide took a 22-7 lead. It seemed to be out of reach when Alabama went up by 29-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Gators took only 59 seconds to pull back to within 14 points. Bama wasn’t able to run out the clock on its next possession, but stopped Florida’s last gasp on a fourth down play. The Tide then ran out the final 3:49, ending at the Gators 3.
Kenyan Drake was not only a surprise player in Saturday’s game, but the tailback/slotback was also a starter. He had been out since suffering a broken arm three weeks ago against Mississippi State. Drake had 4 rushes for 14 yards, caught 3 passes for 16 yards, and returned a kickoff for 22 yards.
Although Calvin Ridley did not have a touchdown reception, the freshman had eight receptions for 102 yards, including an excellent catch on a 55-yard play that set up a short Henry touchdown run.
Alabama finished with 25 first downs to Florida’s 7 as the Crimson Tide dominated time of possession, 43:29 to 16:31. The Bama defense did not allow a third down conversion by the Gators, who were 0-11 and also 0-1 on a fourth down try. Bama was 7-17 on third downs and also made its only fourth down attempt.
Alabama had 58 rushes for 233 yards, Florida 21 runs for 15 yards. While Coker was 18-26 for 204 yards, Florida’s Treon Harris was 9-24 for 165 yards with one touchdown and one interception (turned in by Bama’s Marlon Humphrey).
Thus, Alabama had 84 plays for 437 yards, Florida 45 plays for 180 yards.
Both teams were penalized five times, Alabama for 35 yards, the Gators for 51.
Ryan Anderson led Bama defensively. He had 4 tackles, two for minus yardage including a sack, and three quarterback pressures. Jarran Reed had 3 tackles, one behind the line, and Marlon Humphrey had 3 tackles and a pass interception. Jonathan Allen was in on 3 tackles and had a sack and A’Shwan Robinson had 3 tackles and was in on a sack, Davlin Tomlinson had 3 tackles and Reuben Foster 3 tackles, two of them for lost yardage. Tim Williams was in on 2 sacks and Da’Shawn Hand 1.
Alabama opened the second half with a 12-7 lead and looked likely to add a touchdown on its first possession of the third quarter. However, the 12-play, 55-yard drive that took 6:49 off the clock, stalled at the 12 and Adam Griffith’s 30-yard field goal pushed the Tide to a 15-7 lead.
The drive included the unusual situation of Coker having to leave the game for a play after he had been roughed on a pass play that kept the drive alive. Cooper Bateman took one snap, handing off for a run play.
Alabama’s next possession started at its 19 rather than midfield because of a block-in-the-back penalty on a punt return. Henry had a couple of first down runs and Coker had one and then on a third-and-two from the Florida 32, Coker fired a pass to ArDarius Stewart in the end zone. The pass was high and Stewart was surrounded by defenders, but Stewart made an excellent leaping catch and fell inside the pylon for the touchdown. Bama had moved to a 22-7 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Ryan Anderson put pressure on the Florida quarterback and he threw right to Bama cornerback Marlon Humphrey as the Tide had a chance to add more points. Working from the Florida 38, Alabama drove to the Gators 3, but had a very poor three offensive downs. The frustration was compounded when Griffith missed a 24-yard field goal.
Although both punters did a good job (Alabama’s JK Scott averaged 51.2 yards on 6 kicks and Florida’s Johnny Townsend averaged 51.8 on 8 punts (not including the one blocked for a safety), the Gators got a poor one that set Bama up at the Tide 43.
Henry had a 21-yard run up the middle to get it started and a Coker to Ridley pass picked up 11 to the Florida 24. Facing third-and-8 at the 9, Coker rifled a pass to Mullaney in the end zone to give Alabama a 29-7 lead with 8:50 to play.
Florida used its timeouts to extend an exchange of possessions and the Gators got the ball back at their 19 with just 6:01 to play. From there came the only real offensive success for Florida. Two short passes went for first downs and then Treon Harris connected with C.J. Worton on a 46-yard touchdown pass. The drive had taken only 59 seconds, and Harris capped it with a run for the two-point conversion, pulling Florida to within two touchdowns. With 5:02 to play it was Alabama 29, Florida 14, and that’s the way it ended.
In the first half it looked like the last team to punt might end up the loser in this game. Bama got only 2 points in the first quarter, those coming on a safety when Tide redshirt freshman linebacker Keith Holcombe blocked a Florida punt. The ball went through the end zone for a touchback and Alabama’s 2-0 lead with 9:06 to play.
There was a little more to that result, though. On Bama’s previous possession Tide quarterback Jake Coker was blindsided and fumbled, but was able to recover the ball at the Alabama 33. JK Scott then punted the Gators back to the 13. Florida quarterback Treon Harris was caught by Reuben Foster for a three-yard loss and an incomplete pass and three-yard run made it fourth-and-10 from the 13.
Alabama also got a blocked field goal attempt when Tide end D.J. Pettway knocked down the 40-yard attempt by Neil McInnes in the first quarter.
Alabama’s offense was in sputter gear through most of the first two quarters, including the Tide being backed up fourth-and-8 and its 26. JK Scott hit a boomer, but as sometimes happens it was beyond the coverage and Florida’s Antoinio Callaway gathered it in at the Florida 15 and returned it up the middle of the Alabama coverage for 85 yards and a touchdown. McInnes added the extra point for a 7-2 Florida lead with 11:53 in the first half.
The Tide finally got a nice drive going, helped in great part by Coker keeping for runs of 17 and 10 yards. Alabama went from its 25 to a first down at the Florida 16. Derrick Henry missed the next two plays that gained a total of 1 yards and a third down pass was well short of the first down.
Adam Griffith came on with a 28-yard field goal with 6:08 until intermission and the Gators lead had been cut to 7-5.
Florida followed with a very poor offensive series, that included a Ryan Anderson sack, and after punting to Cyrus Jones the Tide was at its 42 with 3:28 to play.
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The Tide needed very little of that time to get all 58 of the yards. Just three plays and 1:02. The first play was the bigt one, Coker throwing down the middle to a double-covered Calvin Ridley who managed to pull it in at the Florida 3. Two plays later Henry banged in for the touchdown. Griffith’s PAT with 2:26 ended the first half scoring with Alabama holding a 12-7 advantage.