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No. 1 Crimson Tide clinches playoff spot with 54-16 SEC Championship triumph over Gators (via Crimson Magazine)

04 Dec 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: December 3, 2016

Entering Saturday's Southeastern Conference Football Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Florida, a few of the local and national pundits wondered aloud whether the nation's top-ranked team would have the right mindset for its matchup against the Gators considering it was considered a lock for the College Football Playoffs win or lose.
And perhaps with good cause.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide team opened the game in very shaky fashion, surrendering an early lead to a Gator team that was more than a three-touchdown underdog, and struggled at times with consistency at various points in the game.
But enough big plays on offense, defense and special teams, and a relentless, wilting running attack in the second half, proved to be more than enough for a 54-16 Crimson Tide romp in front of a crowd of 74,632 at the Georgia Dome. Senior linebacker Reuben Foster was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Alabama, with its 25th consecutive victory, improved to 13-0 and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs.  The victory also leaves the Crimson Tide only two wins away from being the first major college football team to finish 15-0.
It was Alabama’s third-consecutive conference crown, and fourth in the last five years. The Tide program now has 26 SEC titles overall.
Sophomore tailback Bo Scarbrough led an Alabama team that racked up 234 yards rushing (372 total) with 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Alabama’s defense, meanwhile, held the Gators to 261 total yards, including zero on the ground.
"We didn’t start the game very well offensively although we finished the game well," said Saban. "I think, if we can create balance offensively and be a little more efficient and effective to how we pass the ball relative to how we can run it, I think that would make us better. So there’s a lot of things I think we can improve on. Red zone. I thought special teams was a little better today. That was something I was a little concerned about after the Auburn game. Ball security was not good in that game. It was very good today. We won the turnover battle by three. So we had the three interceptions, and we always say that we want every drive to end in a kick, and that’s certainly what happened today."

Florida opened the game in possession of the ball, and had little difficult moving the ball through the air on the Tide, driving for a touchdown as Austin Appleby hit Antonio Callaway on a five-yard TD pass to put the Gators up 7-0. Florida converted three separate third down conversions on the march.
The Crimson Tide began its ensuing series at the Alabama 25, and the Gator defense forced Alabama to a three-and-out as UF obviously had all of the early momentum.
But on Florida’s second series, Appleby was picked off by the Tide’s Shaun Dion Hamilton, who returned the interception to the Florida 12, setting the Tide up in good shape to possibly tie the score.


Hamilton injured his knee during the game and Saban said he will likely miss the rest of the season.
Alabama, though had to settle for a 31-yard Adam Griffith field goal, keeping the Gators in the lead 7-3.
The Tide defense came up big again on Florida’s next series as Appleby was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick, who returned the pick 44 yards for the score, putting the Crimson Tide on top 10-7. It was the Tide’s 13th non-offensive touchdown of the season. It was also the 10th defensive TD of the season for UA.
Florida was forced to punt on its next series, and the Tide special teams unit came up big, as Derrick Gore blocked the kick and Joshua Jacobs returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, putting the Tide up 16-7, but Griffith’s extra point was blocked and returned for a Florida safety making the score 16-9. That was the total after the end of the first 15 minutes.
Early in the second period, Alabama began a series on its 12, and following a personal foul penalty on the Gators, Jalen Hurts hit Calvin Ridley on 52-yard pass to the Florida 10.
The 88-yard series ended in style as the UA freshman quarterback hit Gehrig Dieter on the six-yard scoring pass to put the Tide up 23-9.
Florida stalled on its next possession and the Tide was able to stop the Gators on a fake punt attempt. The Tide went back to work on the Gator 22.
The Tide, though, was unable to take advantage of the big stop as Griffith was wide on a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Florida stalled on its next series and freshman Trevon Diggs returned the Florida punt 47 yards to the Florida 43.
Scarbrough ran for 22 yards, and then after Hurts hit ArDarius Stewart for six yards to the 15, Scarbrough ran for 10 more to the 5.
Again Alabama had to settle, though, for a Griffith field goal attempt, this time from 25 yards away. It was true and the lead was now 26-9.
Appleby threw his third interception on Florida’s next series, this time by Tony Brown, and the Crimson Tide was back in business at its 38.
Jacobs ran for 12 to midfield on first down, and two plays later Hurts hit O.J. Howard on a 32-yard aerial to the Florida 15.
With 3:48 left in the half, Jacobs scored on a six-yard run to make the Tide lead 33-9.
Florida, behind its passing game, struck for more points on its next series, and a 92-yard march ended on a 25-yard scoring pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to make the halftime score 33-16.
Saban noted at halftime that he did not think his team was “playing all that great,” and said he felt his players had a lot of work to do on offense and defense.
Alabama went three and out on its opening series of the third period, but the Gators were able to drive to the Alabama 1 on its first possession of the half, only to have the Crimson Tide stop Jim McElwain’s team on a fourth down pass play.
Starting its next series from the Alabama 2, the Tide was able to drive for big points. The 98-yard march ended on a two-yard run by Scarbrough. This made the score 40-16.
Big plays on the drive were a 23-yard run by Damien Harris, a 31-yard pass from Hurts to Stewart and a 34-yard jaunt by Scarbrough.
Florida went three and out on its ensuing possession and the Tide went back to work on its 9.
And the result, a 15-play (14 of those runs), 91-yard scoring drive, this time capped by a one-yard scoring run by Scarbrough to make the score 47-16 at the 9:15 mark of the final quarter. Other big plays on the march included a 21-yard run by Harris and a couple of big penalties on the Gators, including a personal foul call, and a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. 
Florida punted on its next possession after a pair of Crimson Tide sacks by Jonathan Allen (with Tim Williams assisting on one of those) and Diggs returned the kick 36 yards to the Gator 21.
With Cooper Bateman in at quarterback, the Tide gained its final points of the night as Gore scored on a 10-yard run at the 3:48 mark to make the score 54-16.
Harris added 86 yards on eight carries for the Tide while Jacobs and Gore added 35 and 21 yards respectively.
Hurts completed 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards and a TD. His leading receiver was Ridley, who hauled in four passes for 43 yards. Stewart had three receptions while Howard had two.
Defensively, Foster had a huge night as he tallied a game-high 11 tackles, including two sacks and two tackles for loss. Ronnie Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson added seven and five tackles respectively.  
Alabama’s 13-0 record marked the third time in the Crimson Tide’s illustrious history that an Alabama team has had a 13-0 mark.
The other times were at the conclusion of the 1992 national title season and through 13 games of the Tide’s 2009 national title year, a team that finished 14-0. With the victory over the Gators, Alabama has won three consecutive SEC titles for the third time in its history and the first time since 1977-78-79. Alabama's other SEC title streaks include winning five straight (1971-72-73-74-75) and three straight (1964-65-66).
The Crimson Tide now waits to see who it will match up against in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
It will likely be a matchup with Chris Petersen's No. 4 Washington Huskies, who defeated Colorado Friday night to claim the Pac 12 Conference title.

 Special thanks: Alabama Athletics Communications

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