Despite hard-fought efforts to reach the pinnacle of the SEC, the Florida Gators ultimately fell short in Atlanta by just a six-point margin.
Going into a matchup that was believed by many to result in a lopsided victory for the Crimson Tide of Alabama, Florida proved resilient in the second half to create some drama going into the final offensive possession of the game.
However, yet again, Florida’s offensive line failed to hold the menacing Bama pass rush, as Trask was sacked for a fifth time while the clock ticked down to triple zeros. As a result, Alabama prevailed for their 28th SEC Championship in their program's history, and Florida woke up from their dream of altering the College Football Playoff’s completion.
Putting their hearts on the line for a chance to dethrone the kings of the SEC, the Gators were able to produce a lot of good to keep them in the game while also mixing in some bad and an unhealthy dose of ugly in their performance.
The Good: Comeback Efforts
Coming out of the halftime break down 18 points to what looked to be an unstoppable Crimson Tide offensive attack, Florida stood tall in the face of pressure.
Seeing moderate success on the defensive side after a very shaky start gave Florida a chance to crawl back into the contest.
Applying pressure out of the halftime gates, Florida scored 14 unanswered in the third quarter by way of a 50-yard catch and run down the right sideline by Trevon Grimes from Kyle Trask and a three-yard run by Nay'Quan Wright to punch the football in for a score and cut the Crimson Tide lead to four.
After allowing Bama to answer back with ten points, Florida once again clawed their way back in, adding 15 in the fourth, with a beautiful jump-ball grab by Kyle Pitts allowing the Gators to pull within six points with just over two minutes remaining.
Inevitably falling short at the hands of one of the best units in the world of college football, the resiliency of the Gators proved something to all those watching around the nation.
Heavily counted out to even hang in against the Crimson Tide—nevertheless have a chance to win the ball game—withstanding a period where they trailed by near 20 points was an obstacle nearly no team could overcome.
By nearly doing so, the Gators legitimized themselves as a program in the most crucial game of Dan Mullen’s tenure to this point. While there are no moral victories at the college level, the trajectory of the proved to be aimed for the stars as they progress towards a Cotton Bowl date with the Sooners before preparing for the 2021 season.
The Bad: Self-Inflicted Wounds
Self-inflicted wounds separate the good from the great teams in college football, and Saturday night proved just that. While the game between Alabama and Florida proved to go down to the wire, many errors, most of which occurred early on, heavily impacted the outcome.
On three of the Tide’s first four drives in the first half of play, the Gators found themselves with multiple opportunities to get off the field with a third-down stop. However, due to three defensive penalties, Bama kept their drives alive and punched the ball into the end zone on all five drives of the first thirty minutes.
Accompany that with a crucial missed chance to pull within four points earlier in the second half after the stop of the game by Kaiir Elam, or a blown timeout after a score that left UF with just one remaining as they looked to get the ball back from Alabama with an opportunity to win the ball game - Florida’s missteps ring as the deciding factor of an otherwise very impressive game from UF.
Whether it was penalties, blown coverage, or missed opportunities, Florida failed to get out of their own way early on against the Tide and paid for it in the end.
The Ugly: Containing Najee Harris
Walking into Mercedes Benz stadium, the consensus understanding of the ball game was that Alabama would rely upon their two-headed monster offensively in Devonta Smith and Najee Harris to produce.
Despite that understanding, Florida's defense failed miserably against both.
While Smith accounted for 15 receptions, 184 yards, and two touchdowns on the night, the physical, bruising and athletic Alabama ball carrier in Harris ran roughshod through the Gators defense with ease.
Criminally underrated for the role he plays in the Tide’s offensive attack throughout the longevity of the season due to the explosiveness of the passing game at all points, Harris is a centerpiece of the balanced attack Alabama’s offense employs.
Taking advantage of the evident tackling issues that have plagued the Gators defense—especially at the second and third levels—on Saturday night and during the 2020 season as a whole, Harris’s production both on the ground and as a receiver played a vital role in the Tide walking into halftime leading by as large of a margin as they did, 35-17.
Come to the game's end, Florida’s inability to contain the run allowed Harris to account for 40% of Alabama’s offensive production by himself, churning out a whopping 245 yards and nearly one point per touch.
To give credit where credit is due, the future NFL back only saw the glory land once in the second half after halftime adjustments. However, at that point, the damage had already been done.
Inexcusable in a game of that caliber against the best dynasty in NCAA history, the Gators must improve in that area of the defense—fundamentally and talent-wise in the trenches—to compete with the best of the best as they look to be doing going forward.