ATLANTA — Being the exacting coach that he is, Nick Saban was unhappy about the touchdown that Alabama’s defense allowed in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s SEC Championship game.
“I think there’s a lesson to be learned for our players in that particular drive,” Saban said. “You’ve got to play the game for 60 minutes.”
Otherwise, it was hard to find any fault with Alabama’s dominant defense in the 29-15 victory over Florida at the Georgia Dome.
Until the Gators’ three-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth quarter, by which time Alabama led 29-7, the Crimson Tide defense had not been scored upon, the earlier Florida touchdown having come on special teams (an 85-yard punt return by Antonio Callaway in the second quarter).
Over a span of eight Florida possessions from late in the first quarter until late in the fourth, the Gators were held to minus-17 yards.
And for the game, Alabama limited Florida to seven first downs, 15 rushing yards on 21 carries and 165 passing yards (almost half of those on the fourth-quarter drive when Saban said Alabama was in the wrong defensive alignment).
Even with that statistics-enhancing drive, Florida’s 180 yards of total offense for the game marked the fourth time this season Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s unit had held opponents under 200 yards.
“That was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones said after Saturday’s game. “Except for the play at the end, we held them to pretty much nothing.”
Saban didn’t disagree.
“We really played well on defense,” he said.
Then, after harping for a bit on the fourth-quarter breakdown, Saban added: “The biggest thing, we had a good plan on defense. We knew what they were going to do. … Our staff does a really good job of tracking what the other team is doing and what we need to do.
“We did a good job up front stopping the run. They were behind the sticks a lot. And we did a good job on third down.”
In fact, Florida was 0-for-11 on third-down conversion attempts.
Alabama sacked Florida quarterback Treon Harris five times, giving the Crimson Tide 46 sacks for the season, and intercepted one pass. Harris completed just nine of 24 passes.
“They took it to us a little bit,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said of Alabama’s defense.
The win — Alabama’s 10th in a row since a Sept. 19 loss to Ole Miss — gave the Crimson Tide its second consecutive SEC championship and fourth in seven years. This is the first time since 1997-98 (Tennessee) that a team has won back-to-back SEC titles.
“I don’t think anybody really thought after that Ole Miss game this team would wind up here,” Saban said. “And to be honest with you, I had some questions in my mind about whether we would wind up here.
“There was a real togetherness with this group. We haven’t had issues. We haven’t had lots of problems. I don’t have to call guys in at all. Everybody sort of bought in. Really a fun team to coach.”
And now the team is bound for the College Football Playoff, which will set its four-team field Sunday.
“Other than the one game where we played poorly and turned the ball over five times, this team has shown a lot of consistency,” Saban said.