On the 13th Day, the Defense Rested

For 12 games the Florida Gator Football team leaned on its defense to shut down opponents and make life easier for an offense that sputtered throughout the campaign. And for 12 games the defense came through over and over again. I don't know if any of you have triskaidekaphobia, but the 13th game certainly wasn't lucky for the Gators.

Alabama had its way with the nation's No. 1 unit on its way to a 32-13 win in the Georgia Dome.

Bama's dominance was so complete that the Crimson Tide only punted twice all night as they rolled up 490 yards of total offense. Alabama scored on six of its first seven possessions if you don't count not trying to score at the end of the first half. Alabama used its power running game to great effectiveness with Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram rambling for 113 yards and three TD while Trent Richardson (80) and Roy Upchurch (57) also had little trouble finding running room against a defense that had allowed opponents an average of just 90 yards a game to this point.

Alabama also won the QB battle as junior Greg McElroy was near flawless in his execution. His numbers weren't staggering (12-18, 239, 1 TD) but they were mighty effective. And the most important thing of all was that McElroy ran the offense without making mistakes.

Absence of Dunlap Huge, Not Decisive

The absence of junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap was certainly felt by the Gator defense in a number of ways. Without Dunlap, Florida had less than ideal depth and that proved crucial against Alabama's powerful offensive line. The Gator defense wore down in the second half because it couldn't get off the field. Without their most dominant pass rusher Florida decided it needed to play a lot of the "joker" package with three linemen and that lineup could not stop Bama on the ground. Without Dunlap the Tide could play more attention to Jermaine Cunningham who played his heart out but was less effective than usual because of the added attention.

Florida doesn't win this game with Dunlap, not the way the other players on both teams played but it would have unquestionably been a different game in many regards.

Early Third Quarter Settled Things

Even though Alabama dominated the first 30 minutes of this game the Gators still had a chance at halftime. In fact, it was anyone's game at 19-13 with Florida getting the second half kickoff. However instead of mounting a threat Florida went three and out to start the third quarter. Alabama then went 74 yards on five plays aided by a Florida penalty to take a 23-13 lead.

The Gators didn't quit, even after Bama made it 30-13 on a TD pass to Colin Peek, a lifelong Gator whose dad, Gene Peek played for the Gators in the '60s. Florida drove into scoring range with about ten minutes to play but Tim Tebow under threw Aaron Hernandez and was picked off by Javier Arenas. A few minutes later the Gators got close again but were stopped on downs.

Plenty of Issues for Further Discussion

There certainly are a number of things to question about the Gators approach in this SEC Championship Game. Why did the Gators play so much "joker" against such a big, physical offensive line? Why did the Gators never try to establish the run, giving the ball to Jeff Demps just once all night? We'll delve into that tomorrow and beyond.

For now, a great year just ended with a resounding thud. The Florida Gators will not repeat as BCS Champs and the 14-0 dream that fueled Tebow and Brandon Spikes won't come true. The Gators have to regroup for a bowl game in order to avoid suffering the fate of Alabama which lost this game a year ago and then stunk up the Sugar Bowl.

It's not what they wanted, but it's all they have left.


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