Alabama outplayed an unprepared Florida team

CFN’s Instant Analysis of Alabama’s 32-13 victory over Florida in the SEC championship.

Did Florida choke? Well …

In 1991, UNLV had one of the most impressive teams in college basketball history. Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, George Ackles … they roared through the season and appeared destined to not just win the national title, but do it in dominant fashion. And then came the semifinal game against Duke, and then a bizarre performance and then the shocking loss. It seemed like Florida had the same problem. It didn’t show up.

Alabama is obviously amazing and more than worthy of playing for the national title (as was that 1991 Duke team). Even though it pitched a near-perfect game, it got some help from a Gator team that seemed discombobulated, confused, and shockingly, for a team that gets screamed at by its “LET’S GO!!!” quarterback all the time, not fired up.

This didn’t have anything to do with Carlos Dunlap and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with looking ahead to Pasadena. Alabama came to the dance jacked up, confident, and played a tight, smart game. It took one drive for the Gators to be on their heels, and about a half a quarter for everything to unravel.

The passing game didn’t click, the running game was totally ignored, and there were enough mistakes to make the coaching staff beat its head against the wall over and over again on review. Of course, Alabama had something to do with that, and I’m not going to throw out the choke word, but … fine. Florida choked.

What’s the definition of a sports choke? It’s when a team or player don’t play up to their capabilities under the pressure of a big moment or game. That’s not to say Alabama didn’t deserve the win and couldn’t have beaten a Florida team that played its best, but Tim Tebow didn’t throw well. Florida’s coaches couldn’t come up with the right formula or adjustment, and now the dream season that was supposed to be about more than just winning a national title has fizzled out. Alabama did its job; Florida didn’t.

— Pete Fiutak

A real McBeating

Florida didn’t just lose in Atlanta in the SEC title game. It got McRouted.

The Gators won’t be defending SEC or national champs for a whole host of reasons, but much of the credit belongs to Alabama QB Greg McElroy and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. Oh, Mark Ingram was terrific and Nick Saban’s defense was predictably air-tight, but the Tide’s McDuo was the single biggest reason that ‘Bama is just a win away from its first national title since 1992.

Throughout the week leading up to this monumental showdown, I kept going back to the same question. Can either of these sketchy offenses stretch the field even a little bit? If not, it would be a long evening for Ingram and Tim Tebow on the other side. For Tebow, it was, but for Ingram, it was a chance to bolster his Heisman resume. The keys were the quarterback and the coordinator.

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McElroy picked up where he left off at the end of the Auburn comeback win; playing with confidence, avoiding mistakes and outplaying his more heralded counterpart on the other sideline. McElwain called an absolutely brilliant game, keeping the Gator D off balance and keeping his own kids away from third-and-long situations.

Hey, like in all victories, this was a total team effort for Alabama, but in a game labeled as a defensive war, the Crimson Tide offense was the clear difference, producing almost 500 yards on the vaunted Florida defense. And if McElroy and McElwain didn’t come through with one of their best games of 2009, Ingram’s heroics might not have been possible.

— Richard Cirminiello

Looking back, looking ahead

1. Ten years ago, red-shirted (designated home team) Alabama drilled white-shirted (designated visiting team) Florida in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Shaun Alexander ran wild in the second half against an impotent Gator defense. A lauded Florida coach presided over a train wreck in which his team was poorly prepared, thoroughly outhit and grossly outplayed in all aspects of competition. The Crimson Tide made the extra effort needed to win the vast majority of snaps, and generally revealed a level of hunger far deeper than anything Florida could muster in that 1999 title tilt.

Shaun Alexander, meet Mark Ingram. Steve Spurrier, meet Urban Meyer. Mike DuBose, meet Nick Saban. Lane Kiffin might be a brat with no sense of decorum, but he had this game pegged: Coaching and discipline stood out in this game — like all the missed Florida tackles and all the brilliant plays turned in by Greg McElroy, who was clearly the better quarterback on the field.

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An interesting trend remained intact with this result: Whereas the two Florida-Bama SEC title games in Birmingham (1992 and ’93) were both won by the designated road team, the five Gator-Tide tussles staged in Atlanta (1994, ’96, ’99, 2008, 2009) have all been won by the designated home team. Because Bama made the most of this “home” game, the Tide — the last SEC team to play in Pasadena, Calif., in early January (in the 1946 Rose Bowl against USC) — will make the long trek to the Arroyo Seco once again, 64 years later.

2. When ranking the best coaches of the soon-to-end decade, it would be hard to deny Pete Carroll the top spot, while Bob Stoops — based on six Big 12 championships at Oklahoma, a remarkable feat — would probably be second. However, after this resounding win against a 12-0 defending national champion from Florida, Nick Saban — even with his Miami Dolphin years, and despite his frequently off-putting behavior — might be in position to take third place.

Saban won his third SEC title of the decade on this satisfying Saturday, and he can now say he’s won an SEC crown at two different schools. If he wins the BCS National Championship Game, Saban will have two national titles in the first decade of the 21st century. He was the coach of the year for the first 12 games of 2009, and he thoroughly undressed Urban Meyer in this titanic Tidal takedown. Decade-long examinations aside, Mr. Saban is the best and most prepared sideline sultan in the sport at this particular moment.

— Matt Zemek