Alabama is the first back-to-back SEC champion in almost two decades, but Florida put a much bigger scare into the Crimson Tide than anticipated.
Let’s break down the victory:
Stop us if this sounds familiar: The Tide started slow on offense while leaning on the passing game a little more than they probably should’ve.
Florida led for a good chunk of the first half because Derrick Henry couldn’t get going and Jake Coker couldn’t find much rhythm in the passing game. Florida’s “D” certainly looked scary, and Henry said after the game he thought the Gators were “the best defense that we faced.”
The play that changed everything was a lucky (on Coker’s part) 55-yard pass that Calvin Ridley somehow hauled in. Henry punched in the 2-yard score and then ran wild in the second half to help seal the win.
An unforgettable “A+” performance slipped a bit when Florida found life in the fourth quarter.
The Crimson Tide allowed just 180 yards all day, including 3 yards between the second and third quarters (yes, you read that correctly). Alabama struggled to get pressure on Gators quarterback Treon Harris at times, but the Tide made him pay throughout the game; they also completely bottled up star running back Kelvin Taylor (8 rushing yards).
A 46-yard touchdown pass from Harris to C.J. Worton with 5:02 remaining was the lone black mark for the Tide “D.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
A brilliant start was quickly erased by Florida returner Antonio Callaway’s 85-yard punt return in the second quarter.
The other unfortunate development: Kicker Adam Griffith missed from 24 yards, quickly removing the “sure thing” status he developed with an epic performance against Auburn last week.
But the Crimson Tide special teams did plenty right Saturday: They blocked a punt for safety, blocked a 40-yard field goal, made two field goals, executed several effective punts and allowed just 44 yards on kick returns.
In Kirby Smart’s final SEC game, the defensive coordinator pitched a nearly perfect game. His defense did not allow a score for almost 55 minutes, ensuring that Alabama could skate to its second straight conference championship.
Lane Kiffin’s offense had its usual identity crisis before settling into Derrick Henry mode, and Nick Saban gave us a classic sideline moment.
It’s tough to find much fault in the SEC champions. The Tide could’ve earned a much cleaner victory Saturday, but it was more than enough to solidify a Playoff spot.