With Will Grier sidelined, Florida has an elite defense and Antonio Callaway. That combination enough to squeak by Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic, and it was enough for the Gators to hang around with Alabama. But Alabama ripped No. 18 Florida apart in the second half, and the second-ranked Tide cruised to a 29-15 win in the SEC Championship.
The win makes Alabama the first team to claim back-to-back SEC titles since Tennessee did the same in 1997-98, and all but guarantees the Tide will be the first and only team to make repeat appearances in the College Football Playoff.
After taking a 12-7 lead into the locker room, Alabama essentially broke the game open by leaning on the Gators until they cracked. And crack they did. The Tide opened the second half with a 12-play, 65-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes of clock and culminated in a 30-yard Adam Griffith field goal.
After a three-and-out, Alabama then marched 10 plays in 81 yards, this time eating nearly five minutes, finished off by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jake Coker to ArDarius Stewart, which pushed the lead to 22-7.
After a missed field goal, Coker all but sealed the game when he found Richard Mullaney for a nine-yard touchdown that put the Tide up 29-7 with 8:50 remaining.
The final score, lopsided as it was, masks the effort Geoff Collins‘ defense and Callaway’s legs posted in the first half to keep Florida in the game – and even lead it for a nine-minute spell. The Tide’s first four possessions ended scoreless, and its first five died short of the end zone. Callaway’s 46-yard first quarter reception threatened to give Florida the lead, and his 85-yard second quarter punt return score did just that.
But Kirby Smart‘s defense was just too much — far, far too much — for Treon Harris and the Gators’ offense. Florida did not score until its 12th touch of the game — a 46-yard heave from Harris to C.J. Worton with 5:03 remaining, the Gators’ first offensive points since the overtime touchdown that finally put Florida Atlantic away back on Nov. 21. All but one of those 12 possession, the drive that ended in Austin Hardin‘s blocked 40-yard field goal try, lasted four plays or less and seven of them either failed to gain yardage or moved backwards.
The Gators went deep into the fourth quarter with just three first downs and less than 100 yards of total offense, in fact.
Florida ended the game with 180 yards, on 3.27 yards per snap, seven first downs and zero third-down conversions in 11 tries. Alabama gained 437 yards of total offense and 25 first downs.
Seven days after carrying a career-high 46 times for 271 yards, Derrick Henry continued to be the locomotive that powered Alabama’s football economy. Florida successfully contained the junior Heisman Trophy candidate for much of the day, but still he charged on for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries. Henry’s output was enough to put him at 1,986 yards on the season, surpassing Herschel Walker‘s 1,891 yards in 1981 for the SEC’s single-season rushing record.
Coker completed an efficient 18-of-24 passes for 204 yards and two scores, and Calvin Ridley hauled in eight grabs for 102 yards.
The win sends Alabama (12-1, 8-1 SEC) to tomorrow’s Selection Sunday announcement awaiting their opponent — likely Oklahoma, Iowa or Michigan State — and their destination — either South Florida or North Texas. Florida (10-3, 7-2 SEC) awaits a Sunday evening announcement of whether they’re driving downstate to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl or Tampa for the Outback Bowl.