McElroy and Alabama shoot down Gators

Florida’s 32-13 loss to Alabama in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome not only sent the Gators tumbling from their No. 1 spot in the polls but also may have contributed to head coach Urban Meyer’s early-morning visit to Shands Hospital, where he was treated and released for what team spokesman Steve McClain termed “dehydration.” ( Meyer’s Sunday morning television show was canceled and he was resting at home. Meanwhile, the Associated Press Top 25 poll of media placed the Gators fifth in this week’s poll behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Texas Christian and No. 4 Cincinnati, all undefeated. The USA Today poll of selected members of the American Football Coaches Association also had a similar Top 25. To view the new polls, scroll down through this story and Saturday report.

ATLANTA – Alabama’s famous quarterbacks who wore No. 12 – Joe Namath and Kenny “The Snake” Stabler – need to make room for another No. 12 who passed himself into Crimson Tide glory and his team into the Citi National Championship Game at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl after ending the 22-game winning streak and the title reign of the Florida Gators.

Junior Greg McElroy, whose passing was much maligned late in the season, may have thrown for just 239 yards and one touchdown but it was his spot-on passing all day long that kept the nation’s top-ranked defense on its heels all day, and with Mark Ingram adding 113 yards and three touchdowns, No. 2 Alabama beat No. 1 Florida, 32-13, in the SEC Championship Game before 75,514 fans at the Georgia Dome.

The victory avenged last year’s SEC Championship result here when No. 2 Florida got two touchdown passes from Tim Tebow in the fourth quarter to score a 31-20 victory over then unbeaten and No. 1 Alabama. The victory sent the Gators to the FedEx BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium where they beat No. 1 Oklahoma 24-14 for their second national title in three seasons under coach Urban Meyer.

This time, however, it was No. 2 Alabama beating No. 1 Florida, the victory sending the Crimson Tide to their seventh Rose Bowl (they are 5-1 in Rose Bowls played during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘46). Alabama will certainly jump Florida to No. 1 when the Bowl Championship Series rankings are released Sunday afternoon. That will put the Tide in the Jan. 7, 2010 game against the No. 2 BCS-ranked team, likely No. 3 Texas, which needed a last-second field goal to beat No. 22 Nebraska, 13-12.

“This is a great win for our program,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Our entire team played great. Greg (McElroy) played great. Mark (Ingram) played great. (Wide receiver) Julio (Jones) played great. But really, most of the credit goes to our guys up front on the offensive line.”

Indeed, the Tide’s line of tackles James Carpenter and Drew Davis, guards Mike Johnson and Barrett Jones and center William Vlachos got their deserved kudos afterward from McElroy. “I can’t say enough about my offensive line,” McElroy said. “We started the season here (in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5 with a victory over VIrginia Tech) and were able to win a championship today. I’m so happy to be able to wear the Crimson.”

This time, a smothering Alabama secondary kept Tebow’s receiving options well guarded while 360-pound nose tackle Terrence Cody and the Tide’s defense closed up the running alleys for the Gators, who had come into the game as the nation’s No. 6 rushing offense at 236 yards and change per game to just 88 yards. With McElroy and the Tide converting 11 of 15 third-down plays (Florida was only 4-of-11) and Ingram and his mates rushing for 251 yards, Alabama also kept the ball away from Florida and Tebow by almost a 2-to-1 margin (39:37-20:23).

For the game, Alabama outgained Florida 490-335. McElroy was sacked just once by a Florida defense that was tired at the end and without junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap at the beginning. Dunlap was suspended for the game after he was arrested for a DUI earlier in the week, and his status for Florida’s upcoming bowl game is to be determined.

“You have to give Alabama credit,” Meyer said. “They made the plays they needed to win the game. They had a good game plan and executed it.”

While Alabama will be playing for the national title, Florida’s spoils will have to be a berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Game on New Year’s Day 2010 in the New Orleans Superdome. The Gators’ likely opponent is Big East champion and No. 5 Cincinnati (13-0), which rallied from a 31-10 halftime deficit on the road to beat No. 15 Pittsburgh, 45-44, earlier Saturday. A year ago after the Tide lost to Florida, its consolation prize was a Sugar Bowl berth and the hangover from the loss to Florida followed Alabama to Bourbon Street where Mountain West champion Utah completed an unbeaten season with a 31-17 victory over an embarrassed Tide team.

Saban used those two late-season losses as motivation for his team and now Alabama will be seeking its 13th national championship, the SEC’s fourth straight (Florida sandwiched its two titles in 2006 and ‘08 around LSU’s 2007 title) and Saban’s second national title coaching an SEC team. He led LSU to the 2003 national championship and then took a ill-advised, two-year “sabbatical” in the National Football League with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the SEC when the school that Alabama alumnus Paul “Bear” Bryant once referred to as “Momma” called Saban to Tuscaloosa. Bryant was at Texas A&M when “Momma called and when Momma calls you come runnin’” to lead Alabama in 1958. Bryant, who was the “other end” to legendary receiver Don Hutson on the 1934 team that won the initial SEC football championship and then a fourth national title with its 29-13 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, spent 25 years in his sweet home of Alabama and won six national titles before retiring following the 1982 season and dying just a little more than a month afterward.

For Meyer, it was obviously a disappointing end to a 22-game winning streak—10 last season after a 31-30 loss to Mississippi and 12 in a year of distractions that included a concussion suffered by Tebow in the Kentucky game. The 6-3, 245-pound senior quarterback, whose “Promise” spurred his teammates to the 2008 national championship, came back to guide Florida to eight straight victories and made a late-season run to get himself back in the race for a second Heisman Trophy to go with the one he won as a sophomore in 2007.

Tebow tried his best—leading the Gators with 63 rushing yards on 10 carries and throwing for 247 yards (on 20-of-35 passing) and one touchdown. But when he had a chance to cut into Alabama’s 32-13 with just under 12 minutes to play, he forced a pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez and Alabama’s Javier Arenas intercepted to end the threat with 11:51 to play. Florida’s defense got a quick three-and-out and the ball was back in Tebow’s hands with 9:42 to play, but on fourth-and-3 at the Alabama 13, Tebow threw behind fellow senior David Nelson and Alabama ran 12 plays over the final 7:28 to run out the clock.

In the end, Alabama’s defense forced Tebow to beat him, and though he finished with 310 yards, it worked. Florida only gained 25 more on four carries from speedsters Brandon James, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.

Florida never led in the game as Alabama took the opening kickoff and marched downfield before settling for a 48-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin and a 3-0 lead with 10:37 left in the first quarter. When Florida couldn’t move the ball and punted, the Crimson Tide marched 76 yards in eight plays, with Ingram going the final 7 yards for the touchdown with 5:33 left in the quarter. Tiffin, however, hit the right upright with his PAT but Alabama led 9-0.

The Gators came right back with a 12 play, 56-yard drive that ate 5:05 of the clock and ended with the first of two Caleb Sturgis field goals, this one a 48-yarder with 28 seconds remaining in the first quarter that cut the Alabama lead to 9-3.

Tiffin’s 34-yard field after a 12-play, 68-yard drive that consumed 5:47 put the Crimson Tide back on top 12-3 with 6:03 left before halftime.

Florida responded with a lightning-quick, four-play, 70-yard scoring drive that had three vintage Tebow plays. He gained 23 yards on a scramble and then 15 yards more to give Florida a first-and-10 at the Alabama 23. Florida then flooded the short side of the field and Nelson was wide open for Tebow’s pass and took it into the end zone to cut Alabama’s lead to 12-10 with 4:31 left in the half.

Tebow was excited and so were the Florida partisans, who were out-lunged by their Alabama counterparts, but the Tide quickly regained the momentum after Arenas returned a kick from his own end zone to the 28.

On first down, Florida blitzed—and McElroy threw a short screen pass into the vacated area to Ingram, who did the rest with the help of some good downfield blocking by his linemen and receivers. Wideout Julio Jones looked as if he blocked Florida’s Will Hill in the back to free Ingram down the sideline, and only a hustling Janoris Jenkins kept Ingram out of the end zone, knocking him out at the 3. Ingram got the touchdown anyway on the next play and Alabama was back in control, 19-10, with 3:32 before half.

“That was a huge momentum shift,” Meyer said.

Tebow and the Gators quickly got downfield, thanks to a 59-yard completion from Tebow to roommate Riley Cooper, but Florida had to settle for a 32-yard field goal with 1:18 left, and Florida had to settle for a 19-13 halftime deficit but had some momentum and looked to get more with the second-half kickoff.

Alabama’s defense, however, had other ideas. Florida came up a yard short on third down and punted the ball away, and McElroy engineered a 5-play, 74-yard scoring drive that climaxed with three big plays on his part. First he hit a wide-open Marquis Maze for 28 yards to the Florida 32, and then after he was flushed out of the pocket by Jermaine Cunningham, McElroy threw incomplete to the feet of Ingram. But when Cunningham pushed him from behind, he was called for roughing the passer, moving the ball to the Florida 17.

On the next play, Alabama brought Jones in motion right and looked like it was going to flood the right flat. Tight end Colin Peek fooled Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks, faking a block and then crossing the field. McElroy waited for him to get behind linebacker Ryan Stamper and laid in a perfectly thrown 17-yard touchdown pass and Florida was doubled up on the scoreboard, 26-13.

Florida had to punt the ball away a little more than two minutes later and Alabama applied the dagger with a 17-play, 88-yard drive that ate up the final 7:36 of the third quarter and 1:11 of the fourth quarter. Alabama converted 5-of-5 third-down plays on the drive and also ran the ball 14 times down Florida’s throats. On the first play of the fourth quarter, McElroy picked up 8 yards scrambling away from Justin Trattou to set up Ingram’s 1-yard scoring run two plays later that ended Florida’s dreams of a third national championship in four years for Meyer and the Class of 2006.

“You’re not going to win every game you play,” Meyer lamented. “We’re kind of in a territory we haven’t been in a while, And we’ve got to regroup from a loss.”

Two losses in two seasons but two titles (an SEC and BCS national championship) and a chance for two more. There are a lot of college football teams that would love to have that kind of resume.

It may not have been good to be a Florida Gator Saturday in the Georgia Dome, but for the last 331 days it certainly has been quite a ride.



Dec. 5, 2009 at Georgia Dome, Atlanta

No. 2 ALABAMA 32, No. 1 FLORIDA 13

Scoring 1 2 3 4—Final

Florida Gators 3 10 0 0–13

Alabama Crimson Tide 9 10 7 6–32


ALA—FG Leigh Tiffin 48 good at 10:37. Drive: 9 plays, 47 yards, 3 first downs, 4:23 time elapsed following opening kickoff. Key plays: QB Greg McElroy completed 3 of 4 passes, including a 19-yarder to Julio Jones to start the drive. But on third-and-4 from the Florida 31, McElroy’s quick slant pass to Jones was bobbled and finally broken up by Major Wright. Score: Alabama 3, Florida 0.

ALA—Mark Ingram 7 run (Tiffin kick hits the right upright) at 5:33. Drive: 8 plays, 76 yards, 4 first downs, 3:56 time elapsed following Florida punt. Key plays: McElroy completed 2 of 3 passes for 34 yards, the completions going for first downs (a 19-yarder to tight end Colin Peek on the first play of the drive and a 15-yarder to Marquis Maze on third-and-7 from the Florida 22). Ingram rushed four times for 36 yards, going the final 7 after a Jermaine Cunningham sack of McElroy was wiped out by a defensive holding call on Brandon Hicks. Score: Alabama 9, Florida 0.

FLA—FG Caleb Sturgis 48 good at 0:33. Drive: 12 plays, 52 yards, 3 first downs, 5:05 time elapsed following Alabama kickoff and 15-yard personal foul penalty on Florida that gave the Gators a first-and-10 at their own 13. Key plays:  After a 19-yard Tebow pass to Deonte Thompson got the Gators out of trouble, Tebow converted twice on third down, first hitting Brandon James for a 9 yards on a third-and-7 play and then faking a run along the line and hitting Riley Cooper for 12 yards. Score: Alabama 9, Florida 3.


ALA—FG Tiffin 34 good at 6:03. Drive: 12 plays, 72 yards, 3 first downs, 5:47 time elapsed following 54-yard punt by Florida’s Chas Henry. Key plays: On third-and-3 from his own 39, McElroy threw a bullet to Maze after Janoris Jenkins tried for the interception and he ran 34 yards before being run out of bounds by Major Wright. Then on third-and-5 from the Florida 22, McElroy rolled out right and tiptoed down the sideline, getting a block from Mark Ingram on Jermaine Cunningham that allowed him to pick up the first-down yardage. Score: Alabama 12, Florida 3.

FLA—David Nelson 23 pass from Tim Tebow (Sturgis kick good) at 4:31. Drive: 4 plays, 70 yards, 3 first downs, 1:32 time elapsed following Alabama kickoff. Key plays: After Demps ran a sweep left for 9 yards on the first play, it was all Tebow. On second-and-1 at the 39, he rolled right, found no one open and then reversed his field, getting a couple of blocks and running for 23 yards. Then on first-and-10 at the Alabama 38, Tebow burst up the middle and to the outside for 15 yards. On the touchdown play, Florida flooded the short side of the field, Tebow found a wide-open David Nelson and he took it into the end zone. Score: Alabama 12, Florida 10.

ALA—Ingram 3 run (Tiffin kick good) at 3:32. Drive: 2 plays, 72 yards, 1 first down, 0:59 time elapsed following Florida kickoff and 28-yard return by Javier Arenas who faked taking a knee three yards in the end zone. Key play: On the first play at the Florida 28, the Gators blitzed and Alabama had the right answer – a McElroy screen pass to Ingram, who got some downhill blocking (Julio Jones blocked Will Hill) before being forced out of bounds at the Florida 3 by Janoris Jenkins. Score: Alabama 19, Florida 10.


ALA—Colin Peek 17 pass from Greg McElroy (Tiffin kick good) at 9:53. Drive: 5 plays, 74 yards, 4 first downs, 2:48 time elapsed following Florida punt. Key plays: After three Ingram runs got a first down, McElroy hit a wide-open Marquis Maze behind linebacker Ryan Stamper for 28 yards to the Florida 32. On the next play, Cunningham flushed McElroy, who threw the ball at the feet of Ingram but then was pushed from behind by Cunningham, a roughing-the-passer call that gave the Tide a first-and-10 at the Florida 17. On the next play, the Tide brought Jones in motion as if it was going to flood the right flat. Tight end Peek sold it as a run and then slipped away from Brandon Hicks. McElroy waited until Peek got behind Stamper and threaded a beautiful pass to him for the TD. Score: Alabama 26, Florida 13.


ALA—Ingram 1 run (McElroy pass to Jones incomplete) at 13:49. Drive: 17 plays, 88 yards, 6 first downs, 8:47 time elapsed following Florida punt. Key plays: The Tide was 5-for-5 on third-down conversions. Fifteen of the plays were runs, starting with a 25-yard burst from Trent Richardson; Ingram rushed 9 times for 38 yards on the drive. Score: Alabama 32, Florida 13.


Attendance: 75,514c.

Weather: Outside, mostly cloudy, 39 degrees, winds from NNW at 8 mph, wind chill of 32 degrees. Inside, artificial light, 70 degrees, no wind, feels like 70 degrees.

Officials: Matt Austin, referee; Wilbur Hackett Jr., umpire; Allama Matthews, head linesman; Terry Walters, line judge; Bobby Aillett, field judge; Bobby Moreau, side judge; Stan Murray, back judge; Roy Potts, alternate; Warren Wiltshire, communicator; Jim Allison, replay official.

Coin toss: Alabama wins toss and elects to receive.

Records: Florida 12-1, Alabama 13-0.

Next game: Florida will likely play Cincinnati in Allstate Sugar Bowl Game on Jan. 1, 2010 at 8:30 p.m. ET in New Orleans, La.; Alabama will play a still-to-be-determined opponent in the Citi National Championship Game on Jan. 7, 2010 at 8:30 p.m. ET in Pasadena, Calif.

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The latest Bowl Championship Series rankings and the games those teams play the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 5:

1. Florida (12-1) lost to No. 2 Alabama (13-0) in SEC Championship Game Saturday at Atlanta, 32-13.

2. Alabama (13-0) beat No. 1 Florida (12-1) in SEC Championship Game Saturday at Atlanta, 32-13.

3. Texas (13-0) beat No. 22 Nebraska (9-4) in Big 12 Championship Game Saturday at Arlington, Texas, 13-12.

4. Texas Christian (12-0) is idle.

5. Cincinnati (12-0) beat No. 15 Pittsburgh (9-3) Saturday, 45-44.

6. Boise State (13-0) beat New Mexico State (3-10) Saturday, 42-7.

7. Oregon (10-2) beat No. 16 Oregon State (8-4) Thursday, 37-3.

8. Ohio State (10-2) is idle.

9. Iowa (10-2) is idle.

10. Georgia Tech (11-2) beat Clemson (8-5) in ACC Championship Game Saturday, 39-34.

11. Penn State (10-2) is idle.

12. Virginia Tech (9-3) is idle.

13. Louisiana State (9-3) is idle.

14. Brigham Young (10-2) is idle.

15. Pittsburgh (9-3) lost to No. 5 Cincinnati (12-0) Saturday, 45-44.

16. Oregon State (8-4) lost to No. 7 Oregon (10-2) Thursday, 37-33.

17. Miami, Fla. (9-3) is idle.

18. Southern California (8-4) lost to Arizona Saturday, 21-17.

19. California (8-4) lost to Washington (5-7) Saturday, 42-10.

20. Oklahoma State (9-3) is idle.

21. Houston (10-3) lost to East Carolina (9-4) in Conference USA Championship Game Saturday, 38-32.

22. Nebraska (9-4) lost No. 3 Texas (13-0) in Big 12 Championship Game Saturday, 13-12.

23. West Virginia (9-3) beat Rutgers (8-4) Saturday, 24-21.

24. Stanford (8-4) is idle.

25. Utah (9-3) is idle.


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Saturday, Dec. 5

SEC Championship at Georgia Dome, Atlanta

No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 1 Florida 13


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Saturday, Dec. 5

Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game at Tampa, Fla.

No. 10 Georgia Tech 39, Clemson 34


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Saturday, Dec. 5

No. 5 Cincinnati 45, No. 15 Pittsburgh 44

No. 23 West Virginia 24, Rutgers 21

Connecticut 29, South Florida 27


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Saturday, Dec. 5

Fresno State 53, Illinois 52

Wisconsin 51, Hawaii 10


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Saturday, Dec. 5

Dr. Pepper Big 12 Championship Game

At Arlington, Texas

No. 3 Texas 13, No. 22 Nebraska 12


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Saturday, Dec. 5

Conference USA Championship Game

East Carolina 38, No. 21 Houston 32


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Saturday, Dec. 12

Army vs. Navy at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., 2:30 p.m. (CBS)


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Friday,Dec. 4

Marathon MAC Championship Game at Ford Field, Detroit

Central Michigan 20, Ohio 10


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Regular season complete


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Thursday, Dec. 3

No. 8 Oregon 37, No. 16 Oregon State 33

Saturday, Dec. 5

Arizona 21, No. 18 Southern California 17

Washington 42, No. 19 California 10


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Thursday, Dec. 3

Arkansas State 24, Western Kentucky 20

Saturday, Dec. 5

Florida Atlantic 28, Florida International 21


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Saturday, Dec. 5

No. 6 Boise State 42, New Mexico State 7

Fresno State 53, Illinois 52

Louisiana Tech 55, San Jose State 20

Wisconsin 51, Hawaii 10


Saturday, Dec. 5

Butler 28, Central Connecticut State 23

Texas Southern 30, Southern 25

Tuskegee 21, Elizabeth City State 7

Missouri West 34, Augustana (S.D.) 21

West Texas A&M 31, Nebraska-Omana 25

Saturday, Dec. 12

SWAC Championship at Birmingham, Ala.

Prairie View A&M (8-1) vs. Alabama A&M (7-4), 2 p.m.



Saturday, Dec. 5 quarterfinals

William & Mary 24, Southern Illinois 3

Montana 51, Stephen F. Austin 0

Villanova 46, New Hampshire 7

Appalachian State 35, Richmond 31

Friday, Dec. 11 semifinal

William & Mary (11-2) at Villanova (12-1), 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday, Dec. 12 semifinal

Appalachian State (11-2) at Montana (13-0), 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

Friday, Dec. 18 championship

At Chattanooga, Tenn.

Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)


Saturday, Dec. 5 semifinals

Grand Valley State 41, Carson-Newman 27

Northwest Missouri State 21, California (Pa.) 10

Saturday, Dec. 12 championship

At Florence, Ala.

Grand Valley State (13-1) vs. Northwest Missouri State (13-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN2)


Saturday, Dec. 5 quarterfinals

Mount Union 55, Albright 3

Wesley College 12, Johns Hopkins 0

Wisconsin Whitewater 31, Wittenberg 13

Linfield 31, St. Thomas (Minn.) 20

Saturday, Dec. 12 semifinals

Wesley College (13-0) at Mount Union (13-0), 12 p.m.

Linfield (Ore.) (12-0) at Wisconsin Whitewater (13-0), 1 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 19 championship

At Salem, Va.

Semifinal winners, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)


Saturday, Dec. 5 semifinals

University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) 48, St. Xavier (Ill.) 6

Lindenwood (Mo.) 42, Carroll (Mont.) 35

Saturday, Dec. 19 championship at Rome, Ga.

University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) (14-0) vs. Lindenwood (Mo.) (13-0), 12 p.m. (CBS College Sports Network)



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USA TODAY (American Football Coaches Association)

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LEGENDS POLL (Retired football coaches)

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