This Georgia Dome thing? Alabama is getting used to it right up to the end.
In the final SEC Championship game in the grand ole dome, Alabama again proved it is defense that wins football games. The Tide handled the Gators 54-16 in the 25th edition of college football’s greatest conference championship game Saturday afternoon in front of yet another sellout crowd.
The ninth meeting between the two schools for the SEC Title had some strange moments, most notably the first quarter.
The Gators struck first. They took the opening kickoff and moved 64 yards in 10 plays. An Austin Appleby-to-Antonio Callaway 5 yard TD pass and following point-after, put the Gators up 7-0.
Bama Coach Nick Saban said: “A little confusion, had some matchup issues relative to things that we hadn’t practiced. But when we got things adjusted on the sidelines, the players did a good job of adapting to it.”
Adapting? Yes. The Tide went on to score 16 unanswered points without even netting positive yards on offense. Sean Dion Hamilton picked off an Appleby pass and moved it to the Florida 12 to set up an Adam Griffith 31 yard field goal.
On the next possession, Alabama’s defense put the team in front for good as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off an Appleby pass and scooted 44 yards for the score. The following PAT put Bama in front 10-7 and set the stage for two of the most unusual back-to-back plays ever seen in an SEC title game.
On the next drive, the Gators were forced to punt from their own 27. Bama’s Derrick Gore blocked the punt, which allowed teammate Josh Jacobs to pick it up and run it in for a touchdown and a 16-7 lead. However, the Tide’s extra point attempt was then blocked by the Gators’ Jabari Zuniga. Freshman David Reese picked it up and ran it all the way back for the score. Most Gator fans, and even the scoreboard operator at the Georgia Dome, thought it was a touchdown. Since it was on a PAT, it was counted as only two points, cutting the Bama lead to 16-9. The stunning numbers in that first half: the Gators racked up 92 yards total offense; Alabama minus 7.
The Tide offense broke loose in the second quarter as a Jalen Hurts-to-Gehrig Dieter 6 yard TD pass pushed the lead to 23-6. Griffith, who had missed a 40 yard attempt earlier, later connected on a 25-yard field goal to push the lead to 26-9.
Three minutes later, the Bama offense crossed the goal line again as Josh Jacobs ran the ball in from 6 yards out for a 33-9 lead.
Appleby led the Gators back by engineering a 10 play, 92 yard drive with the final 25 on a touchdown pass to DeAndre Goolsby. With the extra point, the Gators trailed by 17 (33-16) heading to halftime. Florida would not sniff the end zone again.
The play that sealed the win for Bama came with less than seven minutes to go in the third. The Gators put together a fine drive and moved the ball from their own 34 all the way down to the Bama 2. But on fourth and goal, the Bama defense held strong and gave the ball back to the offense. It took the offense only eight plays to go 98 yards for another score. This time it was a 2-yard run by Bo Scarbrough that stuck it in for a 40-16 lead.
“I think that was the turning point in the game because even — when they scored right at the end of the half, that kind of gave them the momentum,” said Saban. “I felt like we were a little flat in the locker room at halftime. We came out and went three and out on offense. They drove the ball, and we had the great goal line stand, and that was a great goal line stand. Then we took the ball 98 yards. I think that was the turning point of the game psychologically for our team and for their team.”
The only mystery for the rest of the game was if Bama would cover the 24-point spread.
That was solved at the 9:15 mark of the fourth as they moved the ball 91 yards in 15 plays, eating up 7:34 of the clock. Scarbrough’s 1-yard rush up the middle and extra point put the score at 47-16.
The Tide tacked on a final TD on a 10-yard Derrick Gore touchdown run with 3:48 to go in the game.
Linebacker Reuben Foster, who had 11 tackles (9 solo), was named game MVP. He said the team stayed strong even after the first score. “It wasn’t perfect, man. We had to persevere, overcome some hard times, but it came through. We overcame.”
Now, one more college football game at the Georgia Dome. It will be on December 31st, a national semifinal game. Alabama will likely be in that game as well. It will be a fitting final college football game in the stadium featuring the team that has ruled it so well.