ATLANTA — The Alabama Crimson Tide showed why many consider them to be the best team in the country with a dominating performance and a 29-15 victory over the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game.
The Gators could only muster 15 rushing yards against the nation’s stingiest rushing defense. With a one-dimensional attack, Alabama was able to force Florida into seven three and outs and controlled the time of possession 43:29 to 16:31.
“They’re playing their butts off out there and we can’t even get two first downs in a row,” senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman said. “It’s demoralizing and frustrating at the same time. You love those guys and you want to work hard and get the ball in the end zone for them. We just couldn’t get it done today.”
Florida’s defense came out ready to play. The Gators forced Alabama to punt on four of their first five possessions, and forced a fumble on the other one before surrendering a field goal and a touchdown late in the first half.
Alabama scored first on an uncharacteristic special teams gaff. Johnny Townsend’s punt was blocked, the ball trickled out of the end zone and Alabama led the game 2-0.
“Threw a no-hitter on the first overloaded punt block that we practiced like 10,000 times, it seems like, in practice,” Jim McElwain said. “I think the shock and awe of the size and speed might have got them a little bit.”
The Gators settled down after that and took a lead when freshman Antonio Callaway returned a punt 85-yards for a score. Special teams, it seemed, were the only way that Florida would be able to get points on the board.
After opening up with 83 yards in the first quarter Florida managed three in the second and third quarters, respectively. The third quarter was specifically bad. Alabama held the ball for 13:55 of the 15-minute period, keeping the Florida defense on the field and wearing them down.
“As you all know, it gets really tough whenever you’re out there the majority of the game trying to stop them on offense,” junior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “We made a couple mistakes along the way defensively. Against a team like this you have to play a nearly perfect game.”
Florida didn’t play perfect and the offense continued its now more than a month long slide into the cellar. Florida averaged four yards a play on just 45 plays — the fewest of the season, and their 15 rushing yards were the fewest they mustered up since a -19 yard rushing performance against Georgia in 2011.
Alabama’s defense made Florida earn what they got on Saturday night, but Florida’s offense hasn’t earned much in more than a month.
The Florida Gators have a championship defense. They deserved to be on the field against Saturday night and the feeling of the offense letting them down is one that is probably becoming all too familiar for them.
“We just couldn’t get it done today,” Thurman said. “I’m at a loss for words really.”