The Crimson Tide Drown the Gators for the SEC Crown
Alabama made 26 first downs to Florida’s 13, and converted 11 of 15 3rd-down conversions (11 of 15!) to Florida’s 4 of 11. The Tide’s rushing yardage swallowed the Gators’, 251 to 88 yards (63 of Florida’s 88 yards were Tebow’s). Alabama’s unheralded passing game equaled Florida’s touted Tebow-to-Company wrecking crew, 239 to 247 yards. And the Crimson Tide had possession of the ball twice as long as the Gators, 39:37 to 20:23.
This was simply Alabama’s best game of the season and Florida’s worst. By far on both accounts. But why?
Perhaps Tennessee Head Coach Lane Kiffin was correct when he humorously postulated earlier this week that both teams had great players but Alabama’s were better coached. Perhaps.
What struck me the most was the play of Alabama’s QB Greg McElroy. He was stunning. Mark Ingram’s 113 rushing yards, 3 TDs, and Heisman Trophy candidacy aside, it was McElroy’s performance that had to be there for the Tide to win. McElroy threw the ball only 18 times. But he made good decisions, didn’t throw an INT, was consistent, and looked like a leader. Exactly what needed to happen.
Tonight, he reminded me of Jonathan Crompton in this year’s Georgia-Tennessee game.
And that brings me back to Kiffin’s statement.
In the opening drive tonight, it was clear that the Alabama coaching staff did for McElroy what the Vol staff did for Crompton in mid-season: give him some basic, easy plays from which to gain confidence, and allow early passing success to open up the opponent’s defense, allowing the power running game to flourish. Just the opposite of what Alabama typically did this season.
It must have blown ol’ Urban Meyer’s mind.
I’ll tell you what else likely short-circuited the Gator brain trust. Julio Jones and the football basically didn’t get near each other. On purpose.
Jones, the main man in Alabama’s passing game all season, made two catches for 28 yards. He was nothing more than a wooden duck floating on the water confusing the shite out of those defenders dressed in white and their coaches. Instead, it was Marquiz Maze that was tonight’s Raymond Berry for the Crimson Tide. Maze made 5 big catches for 96 yards. Heck, even Colin Peek made more catches – 3 for 39 yards.
Maybe Lane Kiffin was right.
But let’s not forget the fundamental reason for the large part of the success of Mark Ingram, the passing game of Greg McElroy and his receivers, the 26 first downs, and the almost 40 minutes of possession: the Alabama offensive line wore down the Florida defensive front.
The final quarter was particular poigniant. After Bama opened the 4th quarter with a TD to make it 32-13 Bama, 14 minutes remained for Tebow and Company to pull out an all-time comeback with SEC and NCAA championships on the line. No doubt Florida could score 3 TD’s in that time. But the question was, could the Gator defense possibly goose-egg the Tide offense in the fourth quarter?
Seemed like The Impossible Dream. But this was Tebow and Florida.
The next Gator drive quickly got the ball first and goal at the Bama 6 yard line. But Superman made a critical error of judgment. With his receiver open near the back right of the end zone, Tebow decided to juice the ball to him instead of just delivering the ball over the defender to him. A critical opportunity lost – Javier Arenas made the interception for the turnover/touchback. Florida got it right back though. Tebow quickly rattled off six consecutive completed passes, getting the ball to the Alabama 13 yardline. But on 4th and 3, after calling a timeout, the Gators’ evening, and hopes of a double-championship, ended when David Nelson couldn’t hold on to a Tebow pass.
Two consecutive Florida possessions inside the red zone. Two consecutive fatal disappointments for the Gators.
The Crimson Tide then with over seven minutes remaining, ran twelve consecutive running plays, including two classy knees at the end, got the ball to the Gator 14, and the game clock to 0:00.
Alabama had won yet another Southeastern Conference Championship.
Nothing but sincere congratulations can be offered.
UPDATE FROM THE BIG XII:
The Texas Longhorns, stifled all night by a tough Nebraska defense, were basically gifted a chance to win with only a second left, and did just that.
With less than two minutes left in the game, Nebraska went ahead of the Longhorns 12-10 on a 42-yard field goal by Alex Henery. But on the ensuing kickoff, Nebraska’s Adi Kunalic kicked the ball out-of-bounds, allowing Texas to start their final drive on their own 40 yard line.
Then on the first play from scrimmage, Colt McCoy completed a pass to Jordan Shiplay who was horse-collered as he was brought down by a Cornhusker defender, tacking on 15 extra yards for the infraction, bringing the ball all the way to the Nebraska 26. As Texas basically dickered around on the next three plays, with Colt McCoy almost waiting too late to throw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock on the final play, Hunter Lawrence on 4th and 13 at the Nebraska 29 hit a 46 yard field goal that just made it inside the upright to prevent what would have been a bit of BCS chaos.
Texas will most certainly limp into the BCS championship game against Alabama next month in Pasadena, and Colt McCoy’s chances of winning the Heisman likely evaporated. Based on today’s performances, an Alabama sweep of the BCS championship and the Heisman Trophy is looking more likely than on Friday.
The Crimson Tide open the game with their QB, Greg McElroy, being given some easy passing plays to get into a rhythm. After making three first downs, Alabama can’t convert on their first 3rd down situation – McElroy’s pass is bobbled by Julio Jones. But, Leigh Tiffin completes the game’s opening drive with a 48-yard field goal to give Bama the early lead. Alabama 3 Florida 0.
Florida can’t get a first down on their first possession. Alabama on their next possession converts their next 3rd down opportunity. On 3rd and 7, McElroy passes to Marquis Maze who holds on for a 14 yard gain. Then, Bama turns a 2nd and 3 into a 2nd and 8 because of getting caught with 5 men in the backfield. Florida turns up the heat, sacking McElroy. But the Gators are called on the next play for defensive holding that, instead of providing a 3rd down, give the Tide a 1st and goal at the Gator 7 yard line. Ingram then takes it right up the Gators’ gut for a score. Tiffin bounces the extra-point try off the right upright, but doesn’t seem to damper Bama’s total dominant opening. Alabama 9 Florida 0.
Florida opens up their next possession with a 15-yard personal foul. Now playing more uphill than ever, starting on own 13 yard line, Tebow and Co. are still able to get the ball to the Bama 29 in 8 plays, but they can’t get it further. Losing 2 yards in the next 3 plays, facing a 4th and 12, Caleb Sturgis gets the Gators on the board with a 48 yard FG. Alabama 9 Florida 3.
But as dominant as Bama has been so far, they are only up by 6, and you just know Tebow is only beginning to get warm. And as Alabama opens the drive with Ingram taking the direct snap, and gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage, I’m thinking this is going to be a Gator quarter.
The Gators defense quickly stops Alabama 3-and-out swinging the momentum pendulum toward Florida when Ingram on 3rd down gets corralled for a 1-yard loss on a 3rd and 4 trying to get around the corner. But Florida goes 3-and-out as well. The Gators are killed when flagged for offensive holding after seemingly getting a 1st down on a beautiful option run by Brandon James.
Bama now destroy what momentum you thought the Gators may have gained. On a 3rd and 4 from the Bama 33, McElroy throws a bullet to the right to Marquis Maze near the line of scrimmage where he’s running a hitch route. His defender slips while going for Maze instead of trying to contain him, and Maze proceeds to streak down the right sideline for a big 34 yard gain to the Gator 27 yard line. Then on a 3rd and 5, McElroy does his best hopscotch-player/ballet-dancer impersonation routine to stay in bounds and keep the Bama drive alive (a nice 2 consecutive hops with the right leg). But after a sack on a safety blitz, the Tide settle for another Tiffin FG, this time a 34-yarder. Alabama 12 Florida 3.
Tebow – the calmness. When everything seems to be faltering, he can make it work. On two consecutive plays, he gains 38 yards on the ground, the second rush a very fine twister up the middle. Then on 1st and 10 at the Alabama 23, Tebow delivers a bit of play action perfection to David Nelson who gets just underneath deep coverage and squeezes in near the left corner for the score. Four plays in only 1:32. Alabama 12 Florida 10.
Alabama is a game of power dominance. Florida is a game of perfection of technique. Take your pick.
Florida now give Bama a corner blitz on the first play of the next possession. Ingram lets the cornerback go right past him, but as he does, Mark immediately turns around, takes the perfect screen pass, and races down the right sideline to the Gator 3 yard line, stabbing the reptile in the heart while doing so. When Ingram scores on the next play, Bama gains back the momentum you thought they’d lost. Alabama 19 Florida 10.
Now it’s Florida’s turn to stun. Almost. Again on the first play of possession, Tebow delivers a pass to Riley Cooper for a big 59 yard gain all the way to the Bama 21. But after Aaron Hernandez juggles a catchable ball near the goal line, the Gators have to settle for a 32-yard FG – Caleb Sturgis’s 28th attempt of the season, a Florida record. Alabama 19 Florida 13.
The Crimson Tide essentially chooses to run out the remaining minute of the half by running the ball. And you ask as time runs out: How can Alabama win this game? Think about this: they only have a 6-point lead, and can Alabama really play better in the second half then they were in the first?
The Bama defense opens the half by holding as the Gators go 3 and out. Alabama now instead of passing to set up their run game as they did to open the first quarter, open the second half with three straight Ingram runs to set up a big 28-yard pass play to Marquis Maze to get the Tide to Gator 32. Then Florida stab themselves. The crimson front line get to McElroy for a sack for the first time since the first quarter but that’s erased due to a 15-yard personal foul penalty, giving the Tide a gift 1st and 10 at the Gator 17. McElroy responds, continuing his (surprisingly) stellar play. He rolls right, then reverses and looks left, finding Colin Peek near the goal line to give the Tide a seemingly commanding lead. Alabama 26 Florida 13.
But Florida has Superman. And if it was ever time for a Superman, it is now. However the Gators can’t get past their own 39 yard line as the Tide defense provide smothering coverage.
Now Bama give us more of the same. Trent Richardson opens the drive with a 25-yard run. And shortly, it becomes announced that the Gator defense have given up more yards in this game than to any opponent in any game all season. The “Gaitor Bait” signs held by the Florida cheerleaders look mighty silly now, punctuated when, after McElroy drops the snap to back up the Bama drive, Ingram makes a statement by delivering two consecutive power runs to maintain the massive Crimson Momentum that is building to a crescendo. This is a machine just salivating for more meat.
As the ball sits on the Gator 11, the third quarter runs out, Tim Tebow meets with his defense, urging them to make an important stop. On the other sideline, the Crimson Tide rest, smelling the conference crown.
Greg McElroy runs on a bootleg, and with no receiver open, time seems to get suspended. The Tide QB decides to run, and spinning like a top while traveling straight up the middle, makes it all the way to the two-yard line. Potential game-changing disaster averted. And two plays later, Mark Ingram takes the mail home for his third rushing TD of the afternoon. Bama can’t convert the 2-point conversion attempt, trying to make amends for the missed PAT in the first half. Alabama 32 Florida 13.
Fourteen minutes remain for Tebow and Company to pull out an all-time comeback with SEC and NCAA championships on the line. No doubt can they score 3 TD’s in that time. The question is, could the Gator defense possibly goose-egg the Tide offense in the fourth quarter?
Seems like The Impossible Dream.
The next Gator drive gets a bit of good fortune. On a 1st and 10 near midfield, Tebow is bushwacked from behind and the call is fumble – Tide recovery. Game virtually over? Nope. The officials’ review overturns the call – Tebow’s arm is deemed to be moving forward. Debatable. But, the drive continues without me being consulted. A couple of quick completions later, first to Aaron Hernandez, then to David Nelson, the Gators have it first and goal at the Bama 6 yard line.
A must-do-now situation.
Superman then makes an error of judgment. With his receiver open near the back right of the end zone, Tebow decides to juice the ball to him instead of just delivering the ball over the defender to him. A critical opportunity lost. Javier Arenas makes the interception for the turnover/touchback. Now it will likely take a Bama turnover or two for Florida to get this one.
As good as Mark Ingram and the Bama offensive line are, they go 3-and-out, returning the ball to the Gators too quickly if they are interested in icing this game with Tebow still in this one.
Florida starts their drive at their own 31 yard line where Tebow delivers an incomplete pass intended for Riley Cooper. But mixing in some deft, improvisation with more conventional looks, Tebow rattles off six consecutive complete passes, getting the ball to the Alabama 13 yardline. But on 4th and 3, after calling a timeout, the Gators’ evening, and hopes of a double-championship, end. Tebow’s pass to David Nelson can’t be handled for a completion.
Two consecutive Florida possessions inside the red zone. Two consecutive fatal disappointments for the Gainesville Gators.
The Crimson Tide are now intent to let the game finish without relinquishing possession. Seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds to go. Twelve consecutive running plays, including two classy knees at the end, get the ball to the Gator 14 and the game clock to 0:00. Total domination on both sides of the ball by the Alabama Crimson Tide. The scoreboard pretty much says it all.
Alabama 32 Florida 13