Antonio Callaway

Associated Press

No. 1 Alabama strolls into Playoff with 3rd straight SEC championship

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Though no one will ever come out and say it, Alabama didn’t have to win on Saturday. The Tide clinched their third straight College Football Playoff trip with last week’s 30-12 victory over Auburn, and nothing that happened under the Georgia Dome roof would change that. As far as the next month is considered, the only thing on the line in Atlanta was whether Florida or Auburn would represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.

But, to quote a famous, fictional Alabamian, Alabama did as Alabama does. They won anyway. And they won big.

No. 1 Alabama waltzed to a 54-16 rout over No. 15 Florida, securing the Tide’s third straight SEC championship and its third straight Playoff berth.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway, then immediately forced a three-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Any shot at a Florida second-half comeback ended in the middle of the third quarter when, staked to a 1st-and-goal at the Alabama 2-yard line, three consecutive runs netted zero yards and Appleby’s fourth down connection to Goolsby sailed out of bounds. Alabama immediately answered by moving 98 yards in eight snaps, most of which came on the legs of Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough.

Scarborough capped Alabama’s next drive — this a 14-play, 13-run, 7-minute, 34-second, 91-yard migration — with his second rushing touchdown of the day, opening the gap to 47-16 with 9:15 remaining. Derrick Gore closed the scoring with a 10-yard burst up the middle with 3:48 to play.

For the game, Alabama rushed 38 times for 234 yards and four touchdowns; Scarborough carried 11 times for 91 yards and two scores, and Harris added eight rushes for 86 yards. Hurts booked a modest day of 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown. Appleby completed his day with 26 completions on 39 attempts for 261 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida totaled precisely zero rushing yards on 30 credited rushes.

Alabama became the second team in the league’s championship game era to win three straight SEC titles; next season they’ll attempt to tie Florida’s record of four straight SEC Championship victories from 1993-96. The win secured Nick Saban‘s fifth SEC championship at Alabama (and his seventh overall) . It also pushed Alabama past Florida for the most SEC Championship victories at eight in 12 total appearances and edged the Tide to a 5-4 lead in head-to-head SEC title games. The victory extended the Tide’s overall SEC championship lead to 26 total crowns.

The Tide’s 54 points were five off the SEC Championship record (Auburn, 2013) and the most by a Florida opponent since Nebraska steamrolled the Gators 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Saturday’s game was notable for a number of reasons. It was the 25th SEC Championship. It was the final SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome. It was the final SEC game legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist will ever call. And it was the first SEC title game since, oh, about 2005 with absolutely zero national championship stakes on the line.

And as long as the Tide stays this far ahead of the rest of the SEC, it won’t be the last.

Alabama having its way with hapless Florida

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The SEC Championship was competitive… for about a drive.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway. Florida then forced 3-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Appleby closed the half completing 17-of-26 passes for 184 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, while Hurts hit 8-of-16 passes for 112 yards and a score. Alabama has out-rushed Florida 52-7.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.

No. 14 Florida shuts down Georgia to keep control of SEC East

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The No. 14 Florida Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) made sure they would end the day in first place in the hotly contested SEC East with a 24-10 victory over Georgia (4-4, 2-4 SEC). It is Florida’s third straight win (and third straight double-digit victory) against Georgia in the series.

The game was not particularly enjoyable to watch for many, as the defenses took advantage of some sloppy offensive play on both sides. Georgia managed to get just 164 yards of offense and went 4-for-14 on third down. Florida’s offense did not fare that much better, with fewer than 250 yards of offense and a turnover. Luke Del Rio completed 15-of-25 attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown (and an interception on the opening series of the game). Georgia’s freshman Jacob Eason had an even longer afternoon, completing 15-of-33 attempts for 143 yards. Florida really clamped down on Georgia’s running game, limiting Nick Chubb to 20 yards on nine rushing attempts. The Bulldogs rushed for just 21 yards in the game.

Florida held a 14-10 lead at halftime and expanded their lead in the third quarter on an Antonio Callaway touchdown run. From there, Florida could keep Georgia at a distance with a few punts and turnovers on downs the rest of the way.

With the win, Florida remains on top of the SEC East standings with a one-game lead in the loss column on Kentucky and Tennessee. Florida also owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with Kentucky, but not with Tennessee. Florida may have a small buffer, but the Gators also may have the most difficult remaining SEC schedule among the SEC East contenders. Florida plays at Arkansas next week and now had a mid-November game at LSU that was rescheduled from earlier this season (which was originally a home game for the Gators).

Georgia is now eliminated from being able to win the SEC East with four conference losses, so the sights will be on trying to finish strongly to improve whatever bowl opportunities will be available. Georgia can throw a wrinkle in Kentucky’s SEC East hopes next week in Lexington before closing out SEC play at home against Auburn in two weeks. Georgia’s final three games of the season will all be at home, starting with Auburn and finishing with UL-Lafayette and ACC rival Georgia Tech.

Rocky Slop: Tennessee comes up empty twice inside 10-yard line, Florida leads 21-3

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If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.

The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.

Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.

Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.

Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.

Gators, Vols each have key injuries heading into rivalry game

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When the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers meet for their latest edition of their SEC East rivalry game, they will each do so a little short-handed. Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton is expected to miss the next eight weeks with a fractured ankle. Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio has also been ruled out for the game due to a knee injury.

On Monday, Florida head coach Jim McElwain confirmed what had been feared about Del Rio when he ruled him out for this week’s game. McElwain also suggested Del Rio could miss more playing time in the future as he recovers from his knee injury suffered against North Texas. With Del Rio out, Florida will hand the offense to former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby.

Further complicating things for Florida’s offense is the possibility it could be without one of its top offensive players, wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Callaway sat out this past weekend’s game and is said to be questionable at the beginning of Tennessee week in Gainesville. But wait, there’s more! Florida will also be without starting left guard Tyler Jordan, who has undergone eye surgery.

Sutton fractured his ankle on Saturday in a home game against Ohio. Although he walked off the field after injuring himself, he was unable to return to the game. How quickly the ankle heals remains to be seen, but eight weeks feels about right for the severity of an ankle fracture for a player that needs to track down receivers on a regular basis. So if you were expecting to see a Callaway-Sutton matchup, too bad.