Saturday December 6, 2008No. 2 Football Claims SEC Title With 31-20 Win Over No. 1 Alabama
No. 2 Florida (12-1, 8-1) defeated No. 1 Alabama (12-1, 8-1) in front of a record crowd of 75,892 at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night to claim its eighth Southeastern Conference title in school history. Under head coach Urban Meyer, the Gators are 5-1 against opponents ranked inside the top five by the AP and 9-4 against top-10 ranked opponents.
The Gators tallied 358 yards of total offense compared to Alabama’s 323. Florida rushed for 136 yards against an Alabama defense who allowed only 73.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the nation. Alabama entered the game allowing opponents 11.5 points per game (third nationally).
UF was led by quarterback Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.), who was 14-of-22 for 216 yards and three touchdowns. The Maxwell Award finalist also led the team on the ground with 57 yards on 17 carries. Senior wide receiver Louis Murphy (St. Petersburg, Fla.) led the Orange and Blue with four receptions for 86 yards.
The Gators got out to an early lead after holding Alabama’s offense to a quick three-and-out to start the game. The Florida offense drove down the field, capping a 59-yard, nine-play scoring drive with a three-yard touchdown reception by junior Carl Moore (Roseville, Calif.). The score, which came with 8:17 to play in the first quarter, was the first of Moore’s career at Florida. A successful extra-point attempt by senior Jonathan Phillips (Wellington, Fla.) gave Florida a 7-0 lead.
Alabama responded quickly, evening the score only 54 seconds later. Sparked by a 64-yard catch by wide receiver Julio Jones, running back Glen Coffee found the end zone on the ensuing play for an 18-yard touchdown run. Leigh Tiffin’s extra point tied the game, 7-7, with 7:23 remaining in the first quarter.
The Crimson Tide’s Javier Arenas put Alabama in good field position following a 20-yard punt return. However, the Gator defense remained physical, forcing UA to settle for three points. A 30-yard field goal by Tiffin gave the Crimson Tide a 10-7 advantage with 3:28 in the first and marking the first time that the Gators have trailed in a game since the loss versus Ole Miss on Sept. 27.
After scoreless possessions by both sides, UF started its fourth drive of the game at its own 31-yard line following a fake field goal that was broken up by redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Terron Sanders (Bradenton, Fla.). Junior wide receiver Riley Cooper (Clearwater, Fla.) came up big for the Gators with a 51-yard reception, his longest of the season, to put UF in scoring position. Phillips converted on a 19-yard field goal attempt to even the score, 10-10, with 8:59 left in the first half.
After forcing Alabama to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, the Florida offense had excellent field position, starting at the 38-yard line, following a 15-yard horse collar penalty on the punt return. A 22-yard pass up the middle from Tebow to sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez (Bristol, Conn.) gave UF first down and 10 from the Alabama five-yard line. Two plays later, Tebow found junior wide receiver David Nelson (Wichita Falls, Texas) in the end zone for a five-yard TD. Phillips’ successful point-after gave the Gators a 17-10 advantage with less than three minutes to play in the first half. The PAT by Phillips set a new school and SEC record for most point-after attempts made in a season.
The Crimson Tide opened the second half with a 91-yard, 15-play scoring drive that ate up 6:53 on the clock. Running back Mark Ingram punched in his first touchdown of the night from two yards out to even the score at 17-17 with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter. Alabama took the lead for the second time in the game following a successful field goal by Tiffin to give the Crimson Tide a 20-17 lead in the closing seconds of the third stanza.
The Gators answered on the following drive on a one-yard touchdown run by freshman athlete Jeff Demps (Winter Garden, Fla.) with 9:21 to play in the game to give the Gators a 24-20 lead. The drive, which spanned 63 yards in 11 plays, was highlighted by a 13-yard reception by Nelson and a six-yard grab by Hernandez on third down.
The aggressive Gator defense was too much for the Crimson Tide as they held Alabama to a three-and-out spurred by a quarterback sack by junior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (Stone Mountain, Ga.) on third down and eight. Following a 37-yard punt by P.J. Fitzgerald, the Orange and Blue took the reigns at their own 35-yard line. The Florida offense drove the ball 65 yards in 4:37 to add their final score of the night and increase their lead 31-20 off a five-yard reception by Cooper.
An interception by sophomore cornerback Joe Haden (Fort. Washington, Md.) with 1:39 remaining in the game sealed the Gators’ SEC title.
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson was 12-of-25 for 187 yards with one interception and zero passing TDs. Coffee rushed for 112 yards on 21 carries, while Jones led the Crimson Tide with five receptions for 124 yards.