SEC: Gators-Tide 120509

Alabama's offensive line answers the call

December, 6, 2009
ATLANTA – Rewind back to August when everybody was handicapping Alabama’s chances of being a player in this year’s SEC championship race.

There were concerns at quarterback, and there were concerns in the offensive line.

Imagine that, because quarterback and the offensive line were two of the best positions on the field Saturday in Alabama’s 32-13 pummeling of Florida in the SEC championship game.

The truth is there were a lot of stars for the Crimson Tide. They played a near-flawless game, committing just one penalty for 5 yards and not turning the ball over a single time.
Greg McElroy
AP Photo/Dave MartinAlabama's offensive line gave quarterback Greg McElroy plenty of time to pass.

But the way the Alabama offensive line took control of the game in the second half makes you wonder why everybody was fretting over those guys in the first place back in August.

After all, it was only a couple of All-Americans (Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell) that the Crimson Tide lost off that star-studded line a year ago.

“We’ve come together during the season, and we’re all tight and close and I love these other four guys,” said redshirt freshman right guard Barrett Jones, one of three first-year starters on the offensive line. “We’ve always been confident. A lot of people doubted us, but we knew we could be just as good, if not better, than last year. That was our goal.

“Everybody was talking about the offensive line being a question. Our goal was to be better than last year, and that’s what we set out to do.”

It’s hard to argue with anything the Crimson Tide did up front Saturday. They mauled a Florida defense that hadn’t given up much of anything this season and rolled up 251 rushing yards. Quarterback Greg McElroy had plenty of time to throw most of the game and was only sacked once.

In the second half, it was obvious that Alabama was exerting its will against a Florida defense that lost its stinger.

“We never said, ‘OK, we’re ahead now,’ ” said senior left guard Mike Johnson, the veteran of the unit. “We just played the next play and kept pushing and did the things that had gotten us here.

“I didn’t even look up. I didn’t want to know what the score was.”

In addition to Jones, Alabama also plugged junior college newcomer James Carpenter in at left tackle and sophomore William Vlachos in at center. Senior Drew Davis was the other holdover at right tackle.

“We pushed from the beginning, from January on,” Johnson said. “We got James in here and filled that other guard spot with Barrett, and we just started jelling.

“We’ve come a long way, and you can see it now … 13-0 and we’re going to California.”

The Crimson Tide played well enough up front that sophomore running back Mark Ingram may have vaulted right back to the top of the Heisman Trophy picture.

All the ballots have to be in by Monday, but Ingram finished with 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns and also caught two passes for 76 yards.

He said there was one overriding mentality that the entire team played with Saturday.

“We just weren’t going to be denied and had the attitude that we were going to do whatever it took not to be denied, all our heart, all our soul, everything,” Ingram said. “We weren’t going to lose this game.”

As for the Heisman Trophy, he said his interest in winning it is for the Alabama people. Alabama has never had a Heisman winner.

“It would be great to represent them and maybe bring back a trophy for them,” Ingram said.

Getting Saban twice just doesn't happen

December, 6, 2009
ATLANTA -- As somebody said outside the Alabama locker room Saturday night, the worst thing you can do with Nick Saban is give him a road map.

His road map in the SEC championship game came in the form of a bitter 31-20 loss to Florida in last year's title game.

You might beat him once. But beating him in back-to-back years?

It’s only happened once since he’s been in the SEC.

“You’ve got to give our coaches credit. The game plan was unbelievable, and we felt like going in that this was one of our better game plans of the season,” Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said. “We did a great job executing it, but we were so prepared for this game.”

Indeed, Alabama looked one step ahead of Florida the whole way in ending the Gators’ 22-game winning streak with a 32-13 demolition of the defending national champions in an SEC championship game that was even more anticipated than the one a year ago.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban kept Alabama one step ahead of Florida the entire game.
“That game burned inside us for a whole year, and I know it burned inside coach Saban,” Alabama running back Roy Upchurch said. “I could tell in his speech right before we came out for the kickoff that this team wanted it ... and we were ready.”

In his stints at LSU and Alabama, Saban is now 14-1 in rematches with teams after losing the first game the previous season or earlier that season. At LSU, he lost to Tennessee in the regular season in 2001, but beat the Vols in the SEC championship game. The only time he’s lost two in a row was to Florida in 2000 and 2001 when Steve Spurrier was coaching the Gators.

“I think when you play someone that you haven’t played before, you learn a lot about how to play them and what you need to do to have success,” Saban said. “We had a completely different philosophy in how we played defense this game compared to the way we played it a year ago.

“But I think that’s what we learned from playing last year. We would rush four guys and play pattern match, and Tim (Tebow) would run for a first down about three times. We didn’t do that very much today.

“We sort of learned our lessons and made good adaptions.”

When it was over, you could almost see Saban exhale on the sideline. He took that loss a year ago as hard as anyone, getting that close after winning 12 straight regular-season games and simply not getting it done in the fourth quarter.

But as the final seconds ticked down Saturday, he walked up the sideline, shaking hands with several of his assistants.

And then came a chest-bump with sophomore running back Mark Ingram.

Saban showed some hops, too, getting off the ground and meeting Ingram in mid-air.

“Coach Saban is the best,” Alabama redshirt freshman offensive guard Barrett Jones said. “He’s the best motivator. He’s the best at getting guys ready, and when it comes to X’s and O’s, nobody’s close.

“That whole experience last year helped all of us. We wanted to be champions.”

Upchurch, though, said Saban mentioned very little to the team prior to the game about making amends for last season’s loss or exacting any kind of revenge on the Gators.

"No, he talked about going out there and dominating our opponent,” Upchurch said.

And that’s what the Crimson Tide did, piling up the most yards ever (490) against an Urban Meyer-coached Florida team and also rushing for the most yards ever (251) against Meyer’s Gators.

Now Saban takes his shot at another first next month in Pasadena against Texas in the BCS National Championship Game.

Since the Associated Press poll era began in 1936, no coach in college football history has ever won national championships at two different schools. Saban won one at LSU in 2003.

“We’re happy about this (SEC) championship, but we all want to accomplish bigger things,” Ingram said.

Tebow, Gators didn't see it ending like this

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- The tears in Tim Tebow's eyes flowed as freely as Florida scored touchdowns for much of its 22-game spree.

One of the best runs in recent SEC history was over, and he knew it.

There would be no gutsy fourth-quarter comeback this time. There were no heroics left for one of the best college football players of this era.

Only heartache.

Florida was beaten by a better team Saturday in its 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, and Tebow was outplayed by a quarterback, Greg McElroy, who had never started a college game until this season.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way for a team that was seeking college football immortality and for a player who’d been the face of college football for much of the last three seasons.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesIt wasn't supposed to end this way for Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.
“This is not how we wanted to finish our season in the SEC, and you know ... there were a lot of goals and a lot of goals we won’t be able to accomplish,” Tebow said. “But it was frustrating. To say it wasn’t would be a lie.

“We’ve still got to regroup and go have a good bowl game, and that’s what our focus will be.”

Tebow did his best to hold his emotions in check, but it was a lost cause.

Sort of like Florida trying to contend with an Alabama team that was more physical, more disciplined and more prepared.

And maybe a little hungrier, too.

“They were very hungry. You could see it from the start of the game,” Florida junior cornerback Joe Haden said. “We were hungry, too, but it just wasn’t there for us tonight.

“We’re not used to this, none of us are. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this feeling. Nobody really knows how to act.”

Tebow, the hurt etched all over his face, was as classy in defeat as he was in the 47 wins he’d been a part of at Florida, most of those wins engineered by him.

As the final seconds ticked down and the Alabama players began celebrating at midfield, with confetti falling from the top of the Georgia Dome roof, Tebow waded through the mass of humanity looking for Alabama coach Nick Saban.

He wanted to congratulate Saban personally and waited patiently for Saban to finish with his CBS interview.

“He just said, ‘Keep your head up, you’re a great player. You’ve had a great career, and just keep your head up and don’t change who you are,’ ” said Tebow, recounting his brief conversation with Saban.

It was on this same field a year ago that Tebow broke Saban’s heart (and all the hearts in the Tide Nation) with a masterful fourth-quarter performance that saw him make every key play in Florida's 31-20 win.

But the Alabama defense saw to it that he made very few plays on Saturday. And when there were plays to be made, Tebow -- pressured relentlessly by the Crimson Tide defense -- wasn’t able to deliver.

He didn’t play his best game, and neither did the people around him.

The tone was set on Florida’s first possession when Jeffery Demps dropped a pass on the sideline with nothing but green in front of him.

It seemed to be infectious.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez dropped a touchdown pass just before halftime. Tebow threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter, and the Florida defense uncharacteristically gave up one big play after another.

If that wasn’t enough, there were a few penalties mixed in that were particularly costly.

In short, it was the Gators’ worst game of the season. And their sloppiest.

“That wasn’t the same Florida team out there that won 22 straight games. Not even close,” Haden said. “That’s the hardest part.”video

Final: Alabama 32, Florida 13

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA – Alabama overwhelmed Florida from the outset and won its first SEC championship in 10 years Saturday with a 32-13 victory over Florida in the Georgia Dome.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: Alabama won the battle in the line of scrimmage -- both offensive and defensively. The Crimson Tide carved apart the Gators’ defense both running and passing and smothered Tim Tebow with relentless pressure and never allowed him to find any rhythm.

Turning point: After Florida had pulled within 12-10 in the second quarter, Mark Ingram took a screen pass 69 yards on Alabama’s next offensive play and scored from the 3 on the play after that, taking away Florida’s short-lived momentum. Alabama never really looked back after that.

Stat of the game: Florida’s defense had only given up nine touchdowns in 12 games prior to Saturday’s SEC championship game, but gave up four to Alabama in seeing its 22-game winning streak snapped.

Player of the game: It’s probably going against the grain not picking Ingram, because he had a huge game coming off the hip pointer and ran with a vengeance. But the nod goes to Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who outdueled Tebow and was flawless in running the Crimson Tide’s offense. He made every key pass, scrambled for yardage when he needed to and was in command the whole way.

Unsung hero of the game: We’ve got to go heroes here and not just one hero. Alabama’s offensive line absolutely took over the game in the second half and turned in its best overall performance of the season against the best defense it’s faced. The five unsung heroes were left tackle James Carpenter, right tackle Drew Davis, left guard Mike Johnson, right guard Barrett Jones and center William Vlachos.

Second guessing: Wonder what Carlos Dunlap is thinking? You certainly can’t blame this whipping all on him, but his arrest on alleged DUI charges earlier this week and subsequent suspension sure didn’t help the Gators on or off the field. They didn’t look like the same defense without him.

What it means: Alabama locked up a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena on Jan. 7. The Crimson Tide will face Texas provided the Longhorns take care of Nebraska in Saturday night’s Big 12 championship game. Alabama will be vying for its first national title in 17 years.

What's happened to Florida's defense?

December, 5, 2009
Florida's defense has been a shadow of the unit Saturday that dominated its competition heading into the SEC championship game.

Thanks to the crew ESPN's Stats & Analysis, check out these numbers:

Tebow makes his plea to teammates

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- An emotional Tim Tebow gathered all of his Florida teammates around him on the sideline after the third quarter in attempt to rally them.

It wasn't Florida coach Urban Meyer talking to the Gators, but rather Tebow, who was red in the face and beating his chest several times while exhorting his teammates.

Former Florida running back great Emmitt Smith also spent several minutes talking to senior linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been a no-show so far in the game. Spikes injured his calf in the first half.

Those talks didn't help much, because Alabama came out in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter and scored another touchdown to go ahead 32-13.

Alabama's offensive line taking over

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- If this keeps up and Alabama goes on to win its first SEC championship in 10 years, there will be a lot of candidates for MVP honors.

But my choice through three quarters would be the Alabama offensive line. Those guys are starting to take this game over, and you can see it in the body language of the Florida defenders.

The Crimson Tide have won the battle up front all game long, and that was especially apparent in the third quarter.

McElroy looks like a seasoned veteran

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy obviously likes playing in the Georgia Dome.

Remember, he played extremely well here in the second half against Virginia Tech in the season opener, which was his first game as a starter.

He looks nothing like a first-time starter right now, though, and is carving the Florida defense apart. He worked the play to perfection on the touchdown pass to tight end Colin Peek, extending Alabama's lead to 26-13.

McElroy rolled right, gave the play time to develop and threw a strike to Peek in the end zone.

McElroy is throwing the ball and playing as well as he has all season. And what a time to do it.

Gators' James out for rest of the game

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Florida running back/return specialist Brandon James injured his foot and will miss the rest of the game.

Losing James will hurt the Gators on offense and obviously in the return game.

Halftime analysis: Alabama 19, Florida 13

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Alabama started quickly and took a 19-13 lead over Florida into halftime Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the SEC championship game.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: Florida had just pulled within 12-10 on a four-play, 70-yard touchdown drive with Tim Tebow making huge plays along the way. But Alabama answered on its next play from scrimmage with a 69-yard screen pass from Greg McElroy to Mark Ingram, who’s making a strong bid to get right back into the Heisman Trophy race. Ingram plowed in for the 3-yard touchdown on the next play to yank the momentum back away from the Gators.

Stat of the half: McElroy has spread the ball around in the first half. Four different players caught passes, and three different running backs ran the ball. McElroy has 184 yards passing at the half and has only missed on four pass attempts.

Best player of the half: Ingram hasn’t shown any signs of being slowed from his hip pointer and has 127 all-purpose yards at the half. He’s rushed for 51 yards and has two catches for 76 yards. He's also scored both of the Crimson Tide’s touchdowns.

Now that was vintage Tebow

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Everybody wondering where the real Tim Tebow had gone found him on Florida's clutch touchdown drive to pull the Gators within 12-10 in the second quarter.

It was vintage Tebow on that four-play, 70-yard drive. He was able to get loose running the football for the first time all game and executed a perfect play fake to find David Nelson for the touchdown pass.

Just when you think a defense might have Tebow's number, he reminds you why he's Tim Tebow.

Alabama keeping Tebow bottled up

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow hasn't been able to find any rhythm against the Alabama defense.

The Crimson Tide have applied consistent pressure on Tebow, and when he has had time, he's either missed receivers or they've dropped passes.

The Gators haven't gotten anything out of their running backs, either. The other thing is that Alabama has been able to get the Gators into several third-and-long situations.

The one big play the Gators had was called back because of a holding penalty. Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody or somebody is going to have to step up and make a play.

Alabama's Ingram passes Humphrey

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Mark Ingram's hot start in the SEC championship game has pushed him to the top of the Alabama single-season rushing chart.

Ingram already has 45 yards rushing in the first quarter, giving him 1,474 for the season. Bobby Humphrey held the old record. He rushed for 1,471 yards during the 1986 season.

Crimson Tide mixing it up well

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Alabama's offense has done a terrific job on its first two possessions of mixing it up and keeping the Florida defense off balance.

Greg McElroy came out throwing on the Crimson Tide's first play of the game, and the Tide were able to spread the Gators' defense out a little bit.

From there, it was a little bit of McElroy and a lot of Mark Ingram, who looks great to start the game. You wouldn't know he had a hip pointer by the way he's running.

Already, Marquis Maze, Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, Colin Peek, Trent Richardson, Roy Upchurch and Ingram have all touched the ball on Alabama's first two possessions.

That's what you call getting everybody involved.

Fast start for the Tide

December, 5, 2009
ATLANTA -- Outside of Julio Jones' drop on third down, it's been an impressive start for Alabama.

What really stands out is how poised quarterback Greg McElroy was on that first drive, leading to Leigh Tiffin's 48-yard field goal. And then McElroy comes right back on his first pass of the second possession and throws a strike to tight end Colin Peek.

Alabama got good pressure on Tim Tebow on third down during Florida's first possession, but the coverage down the field was even better.

Here's the other thing: If Jeffery Demps doesn't drop that second-down pass on the sideline, he might still be running.