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.