It was a matchup that looked lopsided, and it certainly was. As expected, Florida could manage little from what was a meager offense with Treon Harris at the controls, failing to score until matters were long decided in the 24th ‘Super Bowl of Southern Football,’ the SEC Championship Game. Alabama’s defense (and running back Derrick Henry’s MVP performance) were all that was needed as the Crimson Tide rolled the Gators 29-15 to capture their second straight championship, propelling them into their second straight College Football Playoff.
The SEC Championship was the first of the conference championship games, and it used to capture the imagination of even the most casual college football fans every first Saturday in December. But in recent years, much of the luster has been lost from this game. In the early years the divisions were evenly matched. Then balance of power swung to the East with the battles between Steve Spurrier’s Florida teams and Philip Fulmer’s Tennessee squads. Lately the power has been entirely with the West, so much so that the winner of the East comes into the championship game with little chance to win.
Florida banked a number of wins this season with Will Grier at quarterback who was a revelation for first-year coach Jim McIlwain. Grier’s passing ability gave the Gators an added dimension, when Grier was lost halfway through the season to a year suspension for a positive PED test. That dimension was lost, and so were the Gators. Down the stretch of the season, the Gators were terrible on offense. They managed only three field goals in a division clinching win over Vanderbilt, were shut out in the first half of what was eventually an overtime win over 2-8 Florida Atlantic, and were then shut out on offense altogether in an embarrassing 27-2 home loss to Florida State.
As it was, Alabama came in playing fantastic football since their early loss to Ole Miss where they gave away the store. Derrick Henry had emerged as the prime Heisman Trophy favorite; Jacob Coker had emerged as the heart and soul at quarterback; and the defense had emerged as the country’s best. So expectations were low for this game, and though Florida played hard and their defense kept them close for a while, the outcome was inevitable.
Still, when Antonio Callaway burst through on an 85-yard punt return just over three minutes into the second quarter to give Florida an unexpected 7-2 lead, it got your attention. Henry found the going tough early on, and Florida was actually moving the ball. The kicking game has been a disaster for Florida all season. A blocked punt gave Alabama those first two points, and a blocked field goal stifled the best drive the offense was able to put together the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game. It was help Alabama certainly did not need.
After their slow start, Florida’s lightning bolt return was exactly what Alabama needed to wake up. Alabama’s first 19 plays garnered but 37 yards with two turnovers and a punt return TD against—their next six possessions excluding end of half totaled 358 yards on 55 plays with three touchdowns, two field goals and a missed field goal. When the smoke cleared it was a 29-7 lead and the competitive phase of this championship game was over. Derrick Henry rushed for 189 yards on 44 carries. The Gators combined for 15 yards on 21 carries. Henry now has 1,986 yards for the season, a new SEC record.