Instant Analysis: Alabama rolls Florida to win SEC title, clinch playoff spot
1. Florida’s offense really struggled against Alabama’s defense
Alabama rolled on toward the College Football Playoff thanks to an excellent defense and a mostly competent offense. As expected, the Crimson Tide struggled early with Florida’s defense. Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Gators would have the best defense his team faced all year, and he wasn’t wrong. Florida held Alabama to 38 yards in the first quarter.
What Saban didn’t say during the week—but anyone who watched college football in November could see—was that Florida’s horrible offense would not be able to move the ball on the Crimson Tide, giving Alabama’s offense plenty of chances to wear down the Gators’ defense.
Florida’s 7-2 lead—courtesy of an 85-yard Antonio Callaway punt return in the second quarter—turned into a 22-7 deficit in the third quarter as Alabama hogged the ball and Florida melted down during its rare chances to touch the ball. Alabama tailback Derrick Henry (44 carries, 189 yards 1 TD) and quarterback Jake Coker (18 of 26, 204 passing yards, 2 TDs) guided Alabama down the field at a clock-milkingly-deliberate pace.
Florida just couldn’t keep the ball for long. Gators quarterback Treon Harris completed 9 of 24 passes for 165 yards—and 68 of those came in the first quarter. The Gators seemed to have some semblance of a chance offensively for the first 15 minutes but fell apart in the second quarter. When Florida punted midway through the fourth quarter, the Gators had recorded minus-three yards since the end of the first.
Alabama is the first repeat SEC champion since Tennessee in 1997 and 1998. The Tide now will wait for the playoff selection committee to determine their opponent and destination for the semifinals on Dec. 31. Alabama entered Saturday ranked No. 2 in the committee’s rankings.
2. The Florida offense, encapsulated in one glorious second-quarter play
For the record, the rules forbade two forward passes on the same play. A flag was thrown.
The Gators, who worked a bit of a miracle to even make it to Atlanta in coach Jim McElwain’s first year, likely will get better on offense next year. But they’re stuck with this one for one more game.
3. Derrick Henry may have bolstered his Heisman candidacy
Alabama tailback Derrick Henry carried 44 times for 189 yards (4.3 YPC). In the process, he broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season rushing yardage record*. He also became the first player to break 100 yards in two different SEC title games.
Henry entered Saturday as a slight favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. His passing of Walker—whose 1981 record of 1,891 yards was set in 11 games—could help his case. Fellow contenders Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford had yet to play Saturday. Heisman votes are due on Monday.
*Walker registered 1,891 yards on 385 carries over 11 games in 1981. Henry has recorded 1,986 yards on 339 carries over 13 games this season.