06 December 2008
It lived up to the hype.
In a much ballyhooed SEC Conference Championship battle between #1 and #2 teams in Atlanta Saturday, Alabama and Florida put on a two-team show of athletic prowess, football skill, meticulously executed plans, and brute force that seesawed back and forth for three and a half quarters before Tim Tebow's five-yard touchdown dart to Riley Cooper with 2:50 left gave Florida an 11-point lead that Alabama could not overcome.
There was little visible sloppiness to go along with few penalties and no turnovers by either team until John Parker Wilson's last-minute desparation heave was picked off by Gator Joe Haden. Instead the game featured hard hitting by both squads and an ebb and flow of momentum. Alabama took the lead away from Florida and assumed it themselves twice, but each time the Gators returned the favor. It was Florida who laughed last.
Florida's Heisman-winning quarterback, Tim Tebow, lived up to the legend with numerous pin-point passes to well-covered receivers in the clutch, and a bevy of Gator receivers hung on repeatedly to balls thrown into small spaces high, low, and in traffic, despite taking a 60-minute beating from Bama's physical defensive backfield. Against the nation's fifth-best passing defense, and frequently under heavy pressure from a relentless Alabama defensive line, Tebow completed 14 of 22 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, and was never close to being intercepted.
But it was Florida's running game, shut down for the first three quarters, that turned the game's momentum for good. After the two teams traded blows in a first half that left Florida ahead 17-10 more by virtue of taking better advantage of their opportunities than by any demonstration of football superiority, Alabama outscored the Gainesville bunch 10-0 in the third quarter on two long ball-control drives that threatened to wear the Gator defense down.
Enter Florida's non-Tebow ground game. Held to just 39 yards in the game's first three quarters, Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody, and Louis Marks rushed for 50 yards in the game's final stanza, including 26 yards on the 11-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that opened the quarter and put Florida in the lead for goods.
Shortly thereafter Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham came free on a third-down twist rush that confused Alabama's line, sacking Wilson in what was both the game's final turning point and the very first negative play of the game for the Tide. A few plays later, Tebow pegged Murphy with a perfect strike down the left sideline for a 33-yard gain that set up the clinching TD.
Glen Coffee carried 21 times for 112 yards and a touchdown, John Parker Wilson hit 12-25 for 187 yards and the one interception, and Julio Jones snagged five passes for 124 yards, while Rashad Johnson, Rolando McClain, and Justin Woodall combined for 26 tackles, including many of the definitive variety. Tebow led Florida with 57 rushing yards, while Demps added 53 and Murphy had receptions worth 86 more. Haden, with eight tackles, two pass break-ups, and the late pick, led the Gator defense.
SEC Champion Florida will now almost certainly go to Miami to face either Oklahoma or Texas for the BCS Championship, while the once-beaten Tide will settle for a Sugar Bowl berth that will feel a lot less satisfying than anyone would have predicted pre-season.