Alabama drubs Florida for SEC title
Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy sliced up the fearsome Florida defense and Tim Tebow finally met his match, no matter how hard he tried to fire up his teammates.
With an emphatic 32-13 chomping of the Gators, the Crimson Tide again stands atop the Southeastern Conference. More important, Alabama is just one win away from an even bigger title – its first national championship since 1992, led by a coach who believes in “The Process” instead of the houndstooth.
Ingram, making a strong bid to claim the school’s first Heisman Trophy, rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns. McElroy was 12 of 18 for 239 yards and a touchdown to show he’s no weak link, and No. 2 Alabama rekindled memories of Paul “Bear” Bryant with the convincing victory Saturday.
Alabama (13-0) moves on to Pasadena for the BCS championship game. Tebow and the Gators (12-1) will likely settle for the Sugar Bowl, denied a shot at their third national title in four years.
When it was over, there were a range of emotions.
Nick Saban, the no-nonsense, process-oriented coach who needed only three years to bring Alabama all the way back from a miserable era, looked totally out of character as he leaped up to bump shoulders with Ingram on the sideline.
Tebow found himself in an unusual position, too: sitting on the bench and appearing to wipe away tears as the clock ran out.
The Tide led all the way, establishing its will on the very first drive. In the second half, Alabama shut ’em down, making up for its loss in last year’s SEC title game.
“We didn’t come here for a moral victory,” Saban said. “Everyone had to buy into not to be denied in this game. To be a champion, that’s what you had to do. I’ve never been prouder of a group of players.”
Trailing 19-13 at the half, Florida took the third-quarter kickoff and came up a yard short on Tebow’s third-and-7 pass to Riley Cooper. The Gators didn’t know it at the time, but it was over.
Ingram carried it three straight times before McElroy went down the right sideline to Maze for a 28-yard pass. A silly penalty on Jermaine Cunningham – he shoved McElroy in the back two steps after the quarterback threw the ball away – set up a perfect throw and catch.
McElroy rolled to his right, stopped suddenly and lofted the pass in the other direction, the ball dropping right over Colin Peek as he extended his arms to haul in a 17-yard touchdown.
Ingram finished it off with his third TD early in the fourth, powering over from the 1 to cap an 88-yard drive – the Tide’s longest of the season.
Tebow, who came back for his senior year in hopes of winning another title, was 20 of 35 for 247 yards but his last gasp was picked off in the end zone.
“It’s tough. You know it’s not how you want to go out,” Tebow said, struggling to contain his emotions. “They were just better than us today, offense, defense, special teams.”
Alabama lost to Florida 31-20 in last year’s SEC title game, a result that was on their minds every step of the way.
“Everything we did all year long was to beat them, to be better than them,” Ingram said.
Saban led LSU to a share of the 2003 national title and, after a brief, unhappy stint in the NFL, he returned to take over an Alabama program that had gone through four coaches in seven seasons. It didn’t take long for Saban to realize just how passionate the Tide faithful are about their football – more than 90,000 fans turned out for the spring game.
Saban’s first year was a struggle (Alabama even lost to Louisiana-Monroe) but it was clear he had the program back on the right track. In Year 2, the Tide ripped off 12 straight regular-season wins before Florida ruined their title hopes, rallying for a 31-20 victory in the SEC title game.
Turns out, Saban’s team was merely putting things off for a year. Alabama went 12-0 in the regular season again, and this time not even Tebow and the mighty Gators could stem the Tide.
As the new SEC champions celebrated, “Sweet Home Alabama” blared over the speakers at the Georgia Dome.
“Roll, Tide, roll!” the fans cheered along.
Florida was short-handed for a game that has seemed preordained from the very first practice of the season. Carlos Dunlap, the team’s best pass rusher, couldn’t play after being arrested on drunken-driving charges Tuesday. Another key player, receiver-returner Brandon James, was hobbled in the second half and couldn’t return.
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At end of the third quarter, Alabama celebrated with its crimson-clad fans, while Tebow called all of his teammates around him at the 40-yard line, exhorting them to pull off another fourth-period comeback. That’s what the Gators did a year ago, scoring two TDs in the final 15 minutes to overcome the Tide.
Not this time.
The Tide held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and piled up 490 yards against a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the country, allowing less than 10 points and about 233 yards per game.
Ingram’s performance was no surprise, even though he was coming off a dismal 30-yard effort against Auburn and went out late in that game with a hip pointer. He passed Bobby Humphrey for the school rushing record in a season (1,542 yards) and augmented his performance with a 69-yard reception on a screen pass.
McElroy, a third-year junior, had gone through some ups and downs in his first season as a starter. But he was nearly flawless against Florida, with his legs as well as his arm. He hopped on one leg along the sideline to pick up a crucial first down, and he set up Ingram’s final touchdown with a bobbing, weaving run to just short of the end zone.