Gators drop SEC title game shootout to #1 Alabama, 52-46
Florida hangs with top-ranked Tide but drops conference championship matchup
ATLANTA, Ga. (WCJB) -The Gators got an up-close glimpse of what championship level football looks like on Saturday night, hanging with the nation’s top-ranked team but eventually falling to Alabama, 52-46 in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Florida drops to 8-3 overall while Alabama improves to 11-0. The defeat denies the Gators their ninth SEC title and their first since 2008.
The Crimson Tide trio of quarterback Mac Jones, receiver DeVonta Smith, and running back Najee Harris proved to be unstoppable, especially in the first half when the Tide built a 35-17 lead. Harris totaled 141 yards from scrimmage on four touchdowns in the opening 30 minutes (three receiving, one rushing), while 113 of Jones’s 267 first half passing yards went to Smith, including a score.
The Crimson Tide struck first on an eight-yard touchdown run by Harris to cap a nine-play, 70 yard opening drive. Alabama led, 7-0.
Florida answered immediately on its opening drive. Kyle Trask connected with Kadarius Toney for a 51-yard touchdown pass on third and seven and the score was tied, 7-7. It was Toney’s 10th touchdown of the season.
On the next Crimson Tide possession, it became clear why no one can relax against this top-ranked team, even for a second. Trey Dean intercepted Jones deep in Florida territory, but on the return, Dean was rocked by John Metchie III and fumbled. Alabama recovered at the Florida 31 yard line, and Jones found Smith for a touchdown on the very next snap. That made the score 14-7 Crimson Tide.
Following an Evan McPherson field goal, the Gator defense made another critical mistake. Defensive lineman Zachary Carter was called for a 15 yard hands to the face penalty on a play that would have forced Alabama to punt. The Crimson Tide turned it into points again. Harris took a pass from Jones on third and goal from the six, spun away from one defender, and broke another tackle for a crushing touchdown. Alabama led, 21-10.
Trailing 28-10 late in the half, the Gators rallied, covering 75 yards on four plays. Two big completions to Toney set up Florida at the one yard line, where Trask punched it in to make it 28-17 with 1:09 to go until the break.
That proved to be too much time and Alabama scored once again before the break, on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Harris. Alabama put up 366 yards of offense in the half, compared to Florida’s 213.
Florida started the second half with a bang, on a 50-yard connection from Trask to Trevon Grimes. Florida clawed to within 35-24.
Trask, already Florida’s single season record holder with 43 touchdown passes through 11 games, also surpassed Rex Grossman on Saturday for the program’s single season mark in passing yards. Trask enters the bowl game with 4,125 yards after throwing for 408 against Alabama.
Late in the third quarter, Florida pulled to within 35-31 on a three-yard score by Nay’Quan Wright. The Gators suddenly had momentum pointing their way, but couldn’t maintain it.
Alabama ran down the field once again, culminating in the fifth touchdown of the night from Harris. His one-yard score restored the Crimson Tide’s double digit lead at 42-31. Harris finished with 245 yards from scrimmage.
The teams finished the game by exchanging scores in the final 10 minutes. Trask’s third touchdown pass of the night completed the scoring, a 22-yarder to Kyle Pitts, his 12th of the season.
In addition to coming up short for the SEC title, the result might have swung Heisman Trophy voting. Trask, Smith, and Jones all came into the game as candidates, and now perhaps Harris will be added to the list. Jones finished with five touchdown passes and 418 yards.
Toney was again stellar for the Gators, hauling in eight passes for 153 yards.
At 8-3, Florida will find out its bowl destination on Sunday. A third straight trip to a New Year’s Six game remains likely.
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