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No. 1 Crimson Tide set to begin defining stretch of season in SEC title game against Gators (via Crimson Magazine)

28 Nov 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: November 28, 2016

Nick Saban's No. 1 University of Alabama football team has once again survived a challenge from its main archrival Auburn in the Iron Bowl,  and the 12-0 Crimson Tide can now squarely focus on the closing stretch of games that will ultimately define its legacy.
That stretch begins Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in the Georgia Dome as it faces Jim McElwain's No. 15 Florida Gators in a 3 p.m. CT showdown (CBS). It will be the ninth time that the two teams have met in the conference title tilt, with both teams having won four of the previous eight meetings.
Alabama, besides trying to extend its current 24-game winning steak and improve to 13-0, is also seeking its SEC-leading 26th league title. Florida will be looking for its ninth conference crown.
A win by the Crimson Tide against the 8-3 Gators will lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive season and Alabama would be the only program to qualify for the playoff in its first three years of existence.
Saban on Monday said it is always a special opportunity for his team to be able to play for SEC supremacy, but added that it will not be an easy task to get past a talented Florida team coached by McElwain, his former offensive coordinator at UA.
"This game is really where our focus is and the SEC Championship Game is one of the most competitive environments that I've actually had the opportunity to play in against a very good Florida team that has great tradition and history," he said. "Both teams in this game have tradition and history in this game, and this is the 25th championship game and as I said (Sunday during a conference call), to have (former Florida) Coach (Steve) Spurrier and (former Alabama) Coach (Gene) Stallings there, who played in the first championship game (in 1992) is really sort of something special.
"I think Coach McElwain has really done a good job in his time there and they've gotten better and better each year and certainly won games this year they needed to win so that they'd have this opportunity. They have one of the best defensive teams in the country. Very good man to man team in the back end, very dominant front seven in terms of their down guys upfront, ability to rush and play on the line of scrimmage. Offensively they've tried to create great balance with their team this year and the ability to run the ball, and they've had a couple of backs that have both contributed to that, but I think (sophomore receiver) Antonio Callaway and (junior receiver) Brandon Powell, the two receivers that they have, are certainly guys that they want to get the ball to that have the ability to make explosive plays, and when they've been able to do that they've been very effective on offense. Always very good on special teams and they have really good specialists, whether it's returners, punter, kicker, they're all very effective and very good, so it's a very challenging game for us."

"Last year, like I say, it was a hard fought game for us," said UA senior tight end O.J. Howard during an SEC title game teleconference Monday. "Knowing this year, it's going to be the same way. The
SEC Championship is a very big game each year. We've got to take it just as important as we take any other game. But playing Florida once again, those guys are going to come out and be physical the entire game.
We'll come out this week, get an early start, and get ready for a tough game."
It did not take long for a reporter to raise Saban's ire when he asked if the Tide players may have the mindset of perhaps minimizing the importance of Saturday's game due to the fact that Alabama may still be considered a lock for the playoffs even with a loss in Atlanta.
"Well that certainly is not the mindset we want," said the 10th-year Tide coach, who is looking for his fifth SEC title at Alabama. "I mean, this is a big game for us, it's an opportunity to win the SEC championship, which to me is a very, very significant accomplishment. We hold that in very high esteem, having the ability to do that, having the opportunity to do it, having the ability to play for it. I mean y'all put everything about the playoffs, man, that's all you care about. You don't care about any bowl games, you don't care about any teams in the country that aren't in the playoffs. I don't know, if we don't win this game, maybe we throw a stink bomb out there and maybe we don't get to the playoffs. I don't know. You guys have got all the answers to all that, but I don't. A'ight. All I know is if we play and play well, we control our own destiny in terms of what we do. So I'd really rather not have any more questions about, 'Is it OK to lose this game?' It's never OK to lose a game."
Although the Florida offense, due to injuries and other factors, has struggled on numerous occasions this season, the Gator defense has been extremely solid, ranking No. 4 in the SEC prior to UF's game against Florida State this past weekend,  ranking No. 5 in the league in rushing defense and No. 2 in pass defense.  The Gator secondary is especially impressive, led by junior cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
"Well, they're very good, and their entire defense is very good, particularly the corners," said Saban. "They play a lot of man to man, and those guys have done a really good job of shutting people down and limiting the options that you have. They have good players at safety and they do a good job of rushing, so this is a really, really good defensive team, and we're going to have to do a great job against them."
Fortunately for the Crimson Tide offense, it continues to be led by a true freshman quarterback in Jalen Hurts who has played with poise and maturity beyond his years since Alabama's opening game against Southern Cal. This past weekend was no different as the Channelview, Texas native shook off a pair of first-half interceptions against Auburn to have a strong second half in the Tide's 30-12 victory over the Tigers.
"Look, I don't think anybody on the team want to play better at his position than Jalen Hurts," said Saban. "I mean he wants to do well and you're still talking about a guy that's a freshman. You know you can't really coach experience, and there are some things that guys just have to learn by doing and sometimes the best way to learn it is when you make mistakes. And he would probably be the first to tell you he made a couple of mistakes in the first half, and he'll learn from those and he'll get better. But he's very dedicated, he meets extra and tries to prepare well for the game. But sometimes when things don't happen out there on the field exactly the way he expects them to, that's experience, that's how do you react and respond when things like that happen? We're pleased with the progress that he's made. We've got a lot of faith, trust and confidence in him. We're going to keep working with him to try to get him to improve to minimize those (miscues) so that he can continue to play better."
Tide offensive lineman Cam Robinson was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts in the win over Auburn,  the league office announced on Monday.
He cleared a path for 203 rushing yards and 501 yards of total offense against the Tiger defense. The junior left tackle posted a grade of 89 percent and did not allow a quarterback hurry or a sack, while recording a team-high five knockdown blocks. He helped provide time for quarterback Jalen Hurts to throw for 286 yards (298 as a team) and two touchdowns while completing 75.0 percent of his passes and rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown. The Monroe, La., native opened holes for 90 yards on the ground for Bo Scarbrough and 47 yards for Damien Harris.
In addition, the UA coaching staff recognized 10 players as its players of the week following the Iron Bowl triumph. Bradley Bozeman,  Robinson, ArDarius Stewart and Jonah Williams were the honorees on offense, while Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Dalvin Tomlinson represented the defense.
Minkah Fitzpatrick and Adam Griffith made the special teams list.

Special thanks: Alabama Athletics Communications

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