Alabama Dream Season Still Going

Although Alabama's season has another game, a reward game, the Crimson Tide's dream season was ended by Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators' defense in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta Saturday night. Florida won the SEC title with a 31-20 win.

Game stats:
Alabama Season Stats: &
Nick Saban Post-game press conference transcript:

It was Alabama's first loss of the season. Although all of the BCS conference teams have at least one loss, Bama's came at the worst of times insofar as having a chance to win the national championship. The Gators' win puts Florida in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 8 in Miami.

But Alabama's season is not over. The Crimson Tide is expected to go to the Sugar Bowl and play Utah when the BCS bowl selections are announced Sunday night.

Allstate Sugar Bowl official Ronald Burns confirmed that the New Orleans-based bowl will extend Alabama an invite Sunday. He added that the Tide's opponent will be determined by what another bowl does: the Fiesta Bowl. "Depending on who they pick, we'll likely take either Ohio State or Utah," Burns said, adding that Florida State was also a remote possibility.

In Nick Saban's second year as Alabama coach, the Crimson Tide won its 12 games of the regular season. Florida is also 12-1.

Alabama had been ranked number one in the nation going into the game.

The Crimson Tide went to the fourth quarter with a 20-17 lead. Bama had put together two long third quarter drives to take the lead after having been down 17-10 at halftime. But in the fourth quarter the Gators limited Alabama to total offense of one yard. Florida kept the ball for 12 of the 15 minutes in the final period. And most important, the Gators scored two touchdowns.

Florida drew first blood with a very nice Tim Tebow drive. He was three-for-three passing, including a three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carl Moore for the touchdown, and had some nice runs. The 59-yard drive took only nine plays. After Jonathan Phillips kicked the extra point, the Gators had a 7-0 lead with 8:17 to play.

It was only the third time this season Alabama had trailed in a game. That lasted 54 seconds.

A two-play, 82-yard "drive" tied the score. First, John Parker Wilson connected with Julio Jones, who broke tackles for a 64-yard gain to the Florida 18. On the next play Glen Coffee went over the right side and stretched into the end zone for the touchdown. Leigh Tiffin's extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 7:23 to play in the first quarter.

Excellent Alabama kickoff coverage put the Gators in a hole, and they ended up punting from their 13. Javier Arenas' excellent 20-yard punt return and a five-yard penalty against the Gators set the Tide up on Florida's 25 and Bama took advantage. Wilson completed a 12-yard pass to Nick Walker to the 13-yard line. Two runs failed to gain and then Wilson was forced to throw the ball away, his first incomplete pass. That brought on Tiffin for a 30-yard field goal try with 3:33 to play and his kick gave Bama the lead at 10-7.

The bad news was that Alabama had failed to get a touchdown on a Red Zone opportunity. The good news is that the first quarter would end with Bama leading, 10-7.

Florida tied the score after an unlikely Alabama play early in the second quarter. Facing fourth and nine, Alabama lined up for a 49-yard field goal by Tiffin. Tiffin had made a 54-yard field goal in the GeorgiaDome in the opening game of the season against Clemson. But this time it was a fake with holder P.J. Fitzgerald trying to run and gaining only a yard.

From the Florida 31, Tebow got the Gators deep into Alabama territory. Riley Cooper got behind Marquis Johnson for a 54-yard gain to a first-and-goal at the Alabama four. A procedure penalty pushed it back to the nine, and then Justin Woodall was in on three straight tackles that kept the Gators out of the end zone. On fourth down and with 8:59 remaining in the first half, Phillips kicked a 19-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10.

A terrible decision by Arenas put Alabama in a deep hole. The usually excellent kick return man caught one too close to the sidelines and went immediately out of bounds at the Alabama four-yard line. Two Mark Ingram runs gained six yards, but Wilson's pass to Darius Hanks was dropped and the Tide had to punt from the 10. Fitzgerald did a good job, a 47-yard punt with a fair catch, but the Gators were in business at their 43.

Rashad Johnson was called for a horse-collar tackle, a 15-yard penalty this year, and the Gators were at the Tide 38. Three Tebow runs gained 11 for a first down at the Bama 27. Then Tebow went to the air, connecting with Aaron Hernandez for a first and goal at the four. On a third-and-five, Tebow drilled a touchdown pass to David Nelson and after Phillips' extra point kick the Gators had a 17-10 lead. Only 2:59 remained in the first half and the Gators would have that one touchdown lead at intermission. The eight-play drive covered 57 yards.

At halftime, statistics were fairly close. Florida had nine first downs to Bama's seven. The Gators had 19 rushes for 69 yards and had completed 8-13 passes for 110 yards, making total offense 32 plays for 179 yards. Bama had 17 rushes for 74 yards and 5-11 passes for 92 yards, total offense 28 plays for 166. There had been no turnovers. Florida had about a minute and a half advantage in time of possession, 15:42 to 14:18.

One of the keys for Alabama success was to be able to have long drives. Florida gave the Tide that opportunity when the Gators failed to move on their first possession of the second half. A 57-yard punt by Chas Henry backed the Tide up at their nine yard line.

On a third-and-seven, Wilson connected with Jones for 18 yards to get out of the hole. Another pass to Jones and a Coffee 10-yard run got the ball to the 46. Wilson then hit Walker for eight and Coffee ran for a first down to the Florida 39. Wilson to Jones was good for 14. Two Coffee runs, the second terrific second effort, got a first down at the 15.

Mark Ingram then took over and had a nine-yard run to just outside the five, a three-yard run for a first down and a three-yard touchdown run. Alabama had gone 91 yards in 15 plays and Tiffin's extra point tied the game at 17-17 with just 6:20 left in the third quarter. The drive had taken 6:53.

Florida doesn't take so long. The Gators roared back to within field goal range, but the 42-yard try was wide right. Florida's defense was back on the field with 3:48 to play in the third quarter (although with CBS timeouts, the Gator defenders had plenty of recovery time).

Alabama made another nice drive, a 10-play effort that would eat up all but eight seconds of the remaining time. But Bama came up short on points, having to settle for a 27-yard Tiffin field goal. Still, Alabama had taken the lead at 20-17. Wilson had pass completions of 17 to Walker and 22 to Jones before the drive stalled at the Florida 10 and brought on the field goal unit.

Florida came back with a nice drive to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. The Gators got a good kickoff return from Brandon james, then went 63 yards in 11 plays. A third-and-five at the Alabama nine was the key play. Tebow tossed a Utah pass to Aaron Hernandez, who gained six to the Tide three. Two plays later Tebow optioned to Jeff Demps, who took it in for the touchdown with 9:21 to play. Phillips kick made it Florida 24, Alabama 20.

Alabama had dominated the third quarter, but the Gators would put the game away with another nice drive in the fourth quarter. Florida took over four minutes off the clock and got the clinching touchdown on a third-and-five pass to to Riley Cooper. Phillips extra point closed out the scoring and the Tide with 2:50 to play.

The only turnover of the game, a Wilson pass intercepted in the final moments, just gave the Gators the opportunity to run out the clock in front of the end zone of Florida fans.

Although Alabama gave up 31 points to the Gators, well over the Bama average for the year, the Tide actually played pretty solid defense except for a handful of plays. Linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Rashad Johnson were top tacklers in the game, each with seven primary stops and two assists.

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