McElroy Leads Tide To SEC Crown
Junior quarterback Greg McElroy was named Most Valuable Player as he led Alabama to a dramatic upset of Florida for the SEC championship and an opportunity for the national championship.
Alabama took the lead on its opening possession and never trailed in dismantling number one ranked Florida, 32-13.
The game was billed as the national championship play-in game as it matched number one Florida against number two Alabama, both with 12-0 records going into the game. the Bowl Championship Series national championship game will be played on January 7 in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. All bowl announcements will be made Sunday night, but if Texas was to win its Big 12 title against Nebraska later today, it will be Alabama vs. Texas for the national championship.
Alabama holds records for bowl appearances, bowl victories and has 12 national championships, but has an 0-7-1 record against Texas.
The SEC championship extended Alabama's record to 22 conference crowns.
McElroy, a junior starting for the first year, out-dueled former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in the game. McElroy was named the game's most valuable player as he completed 12 of 18 passes for 239 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. McElroy had raised his game considerably a week earlier when he led the Crimson Tide on a fourth quarter touchdown drive to beat Auburn.
Last second heroics weren't needed against Florida. The Tide led by only 19-13 at intermission and Florida was getting the football to start the second half. But the Gators did not score in the final two quarters as Bama pulled away, and then ended the game taking a knee from the Florida 12-yard line.
Tide sophomore tailback Mark Ingram, written off as a Heisman Trophy candidate after a low output against Auburn, responded in championship style against the Gators, who led the nation in defense coming into the game. Ingram rushed 28 times for 113 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also took a short pass and turned it into a 69 yard gain that set up one short Alabama touchdown.
Although Tebow was the losing quarterback, he had another good game, as he almost always does. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 247 yards for one touchdown, but had one intercepted. He also had 10 rushes for 63 yards.
Alabama dominated thoroughly. The Tide had double the first downs, 26-13, and nearly double the time of possession, 39:37 to 20:33. Bama rushed 53 times for 251 yards, Florida 14 carries for 88 yards. The Tide had 71 plays for 490 yards, Florida 49 plays for 335 yards.
Although Ingram was the main rusher, freshman Trent Richardson had 11 carries for 80 yards, and Roy Upchurch -- who spent some time at fullback -- had seven runs for 57 yards.
Marquis Maze was the leading receiver in the game with five catches for 96 yards. Ingram had two for 76. Tight end Colin Peek had three receptions for 39 yards, including a touchdown.
Alabama took a 9-3 first quarter lead with a couple of nice drives on the Tide's two possessions. Alabama elected to receive to begin the game and Bama started at its 22. A frustration of the 2009 season has been dropped passes by Tide sophomore receiver Julio Jones, and he had one to force a field goal.
McElroy was very sharp, including opening the game with an 18-yard completion to Jones. McElroy also had a seven-yard keeper for a first down and connected with Marquis Maze for eight yards for a first down at the Florida 37. On third-and-four, Jones dropped a pass, forcing Leigh Tiffin to kick a 48-yard field goal for a 3-0 Alabama lead with 10:37 to play in the first quarter. Bama drove 47 yards in nine plays for the score.
There's reason to be nervous when Florida is on offense, but the Tide defense handled the first assignment well. A shuffle pass gained two, then a Tim Tebow pass was dropped. On third down Tebow was under pressure and had to throw the ball away, forcing a punt.
Alabama's second possession was a good one, although spoiled a bit by a missed extra point kick. Starting at the Bama 4, the Tide drove 76 yards in eight plays with Mark Ingram running over middle for seven yards and a touchdown.
McElroy got the drive started with a pass over the middle to tight end Colin Peek that gained 19 yards. Ingram had back-to-back rushes that gained 22 yards to the Florida 35. A pass to Maze on third down gained 15 and a first down to the Florida 17.
Bama got a break when Florida was called for defensive holding, giving the Tide first-and-goal at the seven. On first down Ingram squirmed over right guard and barely got the ball into the end zone. Tiffin's extra point try hit the right upright and bounced away, no good, but Alabama had a 9-0 lead.
The Gators got going with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow completing passes of 19 yards to Deonte Thompson, Brandon James for nine, and Riley Cooper for 12 to move inside the Alabama 30. But three plays lost three yards. On third down, Courtney Upshaw put the pressure on Tebow, whose throw was far over the head of his intended receiver, and the Gators had to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to pull Florida to within 9-3 near the end of the first quarter. The Gators had been guilty of a personal foul on the kickoff, forcing Florida to start at its 13. It was a nice drive, 65 yards in 13 plays.
Alabama got those three points back when Tiffin was good on a 34-yard field goal after a Tide drive stalled at the Florida 17.
After an exchange of punts following the Sturgis field goal, the Tide got started at its 15. Alabama came out of those punts in better shape than might have been expected. Tide punter P.J. Fitzgerald had a nice 40 yard punt to James at the Florida 23, near the sideline, but Bama punt coverage let James escape to the outside. It looked like a touchdown for the Gators, but Fitzgerald made a nice open field tackle. Moments later, Florida was punting back to Alabama, a great 54-yard punt to Arenas for a fair catch at Bama's 15.
McElroy got the Tide out of a hole with an 11-yard pass to Maze. Three plays later, on a third-and-three, McElroy hit Maze on a quick out and Maze turned it into a 34-yard gain to the Florida 27.
Facing third-and-five, McElroy scrambled around right end, tip-toed down the chalk line, and picked up the first down yardage. Unfortunately, the drive failed to gain any more yardage and Tiffin kicked Bama to a 12-3 lead with 6:03 left in the second quarter.
Both teams had fireworks to finish the second period.
Florida went 70 yards in four plays -- almost all Tebow -- for a touchdown with 4:31 to play. In the drive, Tebow had runs of 23 and 15 yards, then completed a 23-yard pass to an unguarded David Nelson for the touchdown that pulled the Gators to within two points, Bama leading 12-10. The drive had taken only 1:32.
McElroy didn't take as long to match the Florida drive. McElroy dumped a short pass to Ingram, who raced down the right sidelines for a 69-yard gain to the Florida three. On first-and-goal, Ingram took it in over left tackle for his second touchdown and a 19-10 lead with 3:32 remaining until intermission. It had taken 59 seconds to get the touchdown.
A big play, Tebow hitting his tight end, Aaron Hernandez crossing over the middle, gained 59 yards to the Alabama 21. Florida couldn't make another first down, but Sturgis kicked a 32-yard field goal to close out first half scoring. Underdog Bama had a 19-13 lead.
Teams that lead at the half had won 13 of 17 previous SEC Championship games.
There was plenty of reason to be nervous about Florida going to the second half. Bama denied the Gators any momentum, stopping the first possession with a three-and-out.
The Tide offense stayed after it. Starting at its 26, Alabama drove 74 yards in just five plays to a touchdown. Ingram ran three times for a first down at the Alabama 39, and then McElroy hit Maze for a 29 yard gain to the Florida 32. The Gators were guilty of a personal foul, moving the ball to the 17. McElroy then made a perfect pass to Peek, who made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch for the touchdown. Tiffin's kick made it 26-13.
Alabama's defense held and forced a punt. The Gators' Chas Henry is an outstanding punter and he got off a great one. Javier Arenas, perhaps frustrated a bit by teams not punting to him, may have made a mistake in catching the ball at the four and running it back to the 12. But it turned out to be manageable.
Trent Richardson took over at tailback and rushed for 25 yards to get the Tide out of a hole. An offsides penalty on the Gators helped Bama to another first down and into Florida territory. A pass to Jones got nine and a first down at the 38. Three runs got another one at the 28. One of the few bad McElroy plays was him mishandling a snap and losing five yards. But Ingram ran on consecutive plays for 10 yards each and a first down at the 12 just as the third quarter was coming to a close.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, McElroy scrambled to near the goalline, inches short of a first down. Ingram got the first down at the middle, running behind Terrence Cody who was at fullback. From perhaps a yard out, Ingram crashed over right guard for his third touchdown of the game and a 32-13 Alabama lead. McElroy's pass for Jone on a two-point conversion try was incomplete.
Tebow drove the Gators deep into Alabama territory, but his pass on first and goal from the six was intercepted by Arenas with 11:51 to play.
The Gators got the ball back and tried again, but this time Tebow was incomplete on his fourth down pass from the Tide 13 with 7:28 to play.
Tebow and Florida wouldn't get another chance.
Ingram, Richardson and Upchurch ran 10 consecutive plays to a first down at the Florida 12, then twice took a knee to run out the clock and start the Alabama jubilation.
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