In the final SEC Championship from the Georgia Dome, the Florida Gators (8-4) fell 54-16 against the nation’s undisputed top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0).
According to Florida head coach Jim McElwain, the Gators didn’t have a chance after giving up four turnovers, but he also said this is the best team Nick Saban has put together since coaching for Alabama.
The Gators started fast against Alabama, marching 64 yards downfield and going up 7-0 against the defending national champions. In the opening drive, Florida made a statement by involving play makers early. The offensive production resulted in three third down conversions, more first downs than Florida had all game against Alabama in last season’s SEC Championship.
Florida’s defense picked up where the offense left off, forcing Alabama to go three-and-out in their opening drive. The Gator defense was helped by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who fumbled the first snap and lost 10 yards.
Alabama’s defense also showed up. Gator quarterback Austin Appleby threw interceptions on Florida’s next two drives, with the first one being forced into coverage before linebacker Shaun Hamilton returned it to the Gator 12-yard line. Florida’s defense held strong, forcing Alabama to kick a field goal to make the score 7-3.
Appleby’s next outing resulted in a pick six, and Alabama made the score 10-7 as Minkah Fitzpatrick returned the interception 44 yards for a Crimson Tide touchdown.
The Gators got another crack at it, but ended up punting from their own 27-yard line. Johnny Townsend’s punt was blocked, and Alabama’s Josh Jacobs returned the punt to the house for another touchdown.
Despite -7 yards of total first quarter offense, Alabama’s defense and special teams helped them to go up 16-7 against Florida. The Gators didn’t back down, blocking Bama’s extra point and allowing David Reese to return the attempt 102 yards for a wacky two point conversion.
Alabama went to work in the second quarter, driving 88 yards in under three minutes to make the score 23-9. The balanced seven play drive ended with Hurts throwing a six yard touchdown to Gehrig Dieter.
The Gators’ following drive ended with a botched fake punt attempt, as Townsend lost 11 yards in the turnover on downs. Florida finally caught a break when Adam Griffith’s 40-yard attempt sailed wide left. The Gators went three-and-out on their next drive, and the Crimson Tide got all the way down to Florida’s five yard line – but had to settle for a Griffith 25-yard field goal.
Down 26-9, Florida’s next drive ended in just three plays. Appleby under-threw wideout Ahmad Fullwood on a deep sideline ball and watched as his third interception got taken from his receiver’s hands. Alabama didn’t take long to strike again. With around three minutes left in the half, tailback Josh Jacobs capitalized with a six-yard rushing score as Alabama hustled 62 yards downfield in five plays to make the score 33-9.
Bama’s 33 first half points are the most scored by any team in the history of the SEC Championship.
Despite the historic performance by Alabama, Florida responded in the best way possible to end the first half. The Gators used a pass-heavy 92-yard drive to bring the score to 33-16 — capped off by D’Andre Goolsby’s 25-yard touchdown reception.
Alabama’s second half began with a three-and-out, and Florida gained some momentum back as they drove 64 yards downfield. However, Florida’s first drive of the second half resulted in no score as Appleby’s pass on fourth-and-goal slipped out of Goolsby’s hands in the back of the end zone.
Appleby finished the game 26-of-39, with 261 yards and three interceptions.
McElwain says the Gators “came here to be champions of the SEC”, and going for the touchdown made sense as Florida looked for answers against Bama.
Alabama’s offense wasted no time after the turnover, promptly scoring after a 98-yard drive. Tailback Bo Scarborough made the score 40-16 with a two-yard touchdown run.
Unable to get anything going on offense, the Gators gained -3 yards and went three-and-out before punting for the fourth time. Florida’s defense was gassed after being off the field for only 1:36 of game clock, allowing Scarborough to score a one-yard touchdown run via a 15-play, 91-yard drive. While Florida’s pass defense looked formidable against Jalen Hurts, Scarborough and Damien Harris ran rampant against the Gators — the two featured backs combined for 177 rushing yards while averaging over nine yards per carry.
Once again, Florida’s offense went backwards, punting away quickly after Appleby was sacked on consecutive downs for losses of 8 and 13 yards. Alabama’s Trevon Diggs returned Townsend’s punt 36 yards to the Florida 21-yard line, and tailback Derrick Gore cleaned up with four consecutive rushes, including a 10-yard touchdown scamper that left the final score at 54-16.
Up Next for the Gators
Looking forward, the Gators now get a chance to bounce back with a bowl game in January. When asked if he would consider burning a red shirt for quarterbacks Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks, McElwain explained that they want to play, but he would have to have a discussion with them before making that decision.