ATLANTA – The No. 1 ranked University of Alabama football team earned a 54-16 victory over the 15th-ranked Florida Gators to win the 2016 Southeastern Conference Championship Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome in front of 74,362 fans.
The victory earned Alabama its 26th SEC title and its seventh SEC Championship Game win in the 25-year history of the title game. The Crimson Tide has emerged victorious in its last five consecutive SEC Championship Game appearances. Today’s game marked the ninth championship game meeting between Alabama and Florida, including the first in 1992. The Tide now leads in those matchups, 5-4. Alabama head coach Nick Saban improved to 7-1 in the SEC title game, going 5-1 with the Tide and 2-0 at LSU.
Alabama scored in all phases of the game, including an interception and a blocked punt, both of which were returned for touchdowns. The Tide’s 53 points was the most against Florida in the history of the series, bettering the previous mark of 49 in 1926. The Crimson Tide defense held the Gators to 0 rushing yards on 30 attempts, the fewest rushing yards the Gators have gained against Alabama, with previous low of 15 coming in 2011 and again in 2015.
The Tide gained 234 yards on the ground and 138 through the air for a total of 372 yards of total offense on 58 plays. With 0 net yards on the ground, the Gators gained 261 passing yards. The Gators’ 261 yards of total offense came on 69 plays. It took a while for Alabama’s offense to get going but by the third quarter it was nearly unstoppable. Alabama’s last touchdown of the third quarter and first of the fourth quarter covered a combined 189 yards on 22 plays and took 10:50 off the clock.
Alabama’s freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough led all rushers with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Running backs Josh Jacobs (a freshman) and Derrick Gore (a sophomore) also scored rushing touchdowns. Alabama had three players with more than 40 yards receiving, including wide receivers Calvin Ridley (a sophomore who had four catches for 43 yards) and ArDarius Stewart (a junior who tallied three catches for 42 yards). Alabama’s senior tight end O.J. Howardhad two catches for 41 yards on the day.
Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster earned Most Valuable Player honors by turning in 11 tackles, including nine solo stops, two quarterback sacks and two tackles for loss to lead the Crimson Tide defense. Sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, junior defensive back Tony Brown and junior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton all had interceptions on the day, with Fitzpatrick taking his back for a touchdown.
Alabama won the coin toss to start the game and chose to defer its option to the second half. Florida’s Mark Thompson took the kick at his own 15-yard line and returned it 21 yards to the Gator 36. From there, Florida converted three consecutive third down plays into first downs, including a conversion that covered 17 yards on an Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway pass that reached the 50-yard line. On the second third down conversion, it was Appleby to Callaway once again for 24 yards to the Alabama five-yard line. On the next play Callaway made a finger-tip catch in the end zone for the first score of the game. It was the first touchdown given up by Alabama since October 22, a span of more than four full games. In fact, it was the first offensive snap by an opposing team from inside the Tide 10-yard line since that date.
After a three-and-out by the Alabama offense on its first drive, Florida got the ball back on its 41-yard line. On the first play, Appleby’s pass across the middle was intercepted by Hamilton, who returned it 40 yards to the Gator 12. Unable to move the ball, Alabama came away with a 31-yard field goal by Adam Griffith to narrow the Gator lead to 7-3.
Florida started its next drive on its own 25-yard line. After picking up 12 yards and a first down on its first two plays of the drive, Appleby followed up a 10-yard Gator penalty with another interception, with Fitzpatrick grabbing the interception and returning it 44 yards for a touchdown. It was Alabama’s 13th non-offensive score of the season. Griffith came on for the extra point, which was good, making the score Alabama 10, Florida 7, with 5:06 left in the first quarter.
Back-to-back blocked kicks resulted in a touchdown for Alabama and a defensive extra point for the Gators. After Florida picked up a first down on another third-down conversion, Alabama’s defense stiffened and forced the Gators’ first punt of the game which was blocked by the Tide’s Derrick Gore and scooped up by Jacobs who raced into the end zone for a touchdown. The ensuing extra-point attempt was blocked and returned by David Reese for a two-point defensive conversion. That exchanged gave Alabama a 16-9 lead with 1:38 left in the first quarter.
Florida finished the first quarter with a three-and-out, with a punt coming on the first play of the second quarter.
While the Alabama offense took only six snaps in the first quarter, but the defense turned in a pair of interceptions with the first resulting in a field goal and the second resulting in a touchdown, while the Tide special teams returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. All of that gave Alabama at 16-9 lead after the first period.
Townsend’s booming punt opened the second quarter, going 62 yards after another three-and-out by the Gators. Trevon Diggs took the punt at the Tide 10 and returned it 47 yards to the Gator 43 where he was forced out of bounds by Townsend. From there, Alabama moved the ball to the Florida seven-yard line as Scarbrough gained 30 yards on three rushes and Stewart picked up six more yards on a Hurts pass. Griffith entered to kick a 25-yard goal that was good and Alabama led, 26-9, with 6:20 left in the half.
On the next drive, Alabama picked off the Gators for the third time in the first half, when Brown grabbed the ball on the Tide 38. From there, Jacobs gained 15 yards on a pair of carries to start the drive followed by a 32-yard catch and run by Howard to the Florida 15. Another pass from Hurts to Howard took the ball to the Gator six before Jacobs finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Griffith’s extra point attempt was true and Alabama increased its lead to 33-9 with 3:42 left in the half.
The Gators mounted their first extended drive since the game’s opening possession, marching 92 yards for a touchdown. Appleby completed a 22-yard pass to tight end DeAndre Goolsby and a 17-yard toss to Callaway before Goolsby took an Appleby pass 25 yards up the right sideline into the end zone. Pinerio’s extra point kick was good and, with 19 seconds left in the half, Alabama’s lead was cut to 33-16 heading into the locker room.
Hurts was 8-for-16 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown in the opening half. Jacobs led the Tide on the ground with 34 yards and a touchdown on five attempts. Ridley was the top receiver with three catches for 53 yards. The Tide defense had three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
For the Gators, Appleby was 17-of-26 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns along with three interceptions. Jordan Scarlett was the Gators’ top rusher in the first half with 18 yards on eight carries. Both Goolsby and Callaway caught touchdown passes in the first half for Florida. Both had four catches with Goolsby tallying 66 yards and Callaway 63.
Alabama’s opened the second half with a three-and-out. Taking over on its own 34-yard line, Florida mounted another extended drive with Appleby moving the Gators down the field with a series of intermediate passes before a screen pass to running back Lemical Perine picked up 32 yards to the Alabama two-yard line, setting Florida up with a first and goal. Alabama’s defense stiffened and the Gators went for it on fourth down. An errant pass by a pressured Appleby to Goolsby gave Alabama back the ball on the Tide two.
Harris started Alabama’s next drive with runs of nine and 23 yards, getting Alabama out of the shadow of its own end zone to the Tide 34. Hurts then completed a 34-yard pass to Stewart to the Florida 44. Tide running back Bo Scarbrough then went to work, finishing the 98-yard drive with runs of 34 and two yards, the last one for a touchdown. Griffith made the point-after attempt and the Tide lead swelled to 40-16 with 3:25 left in the third quarter.
That Gators were forced into another three-and-out, giving Alabama the ball on its own nine-yard line after a 60-yard punt and an illegal block penalty during the punt on the Tide. Alabama ended the third quarter with three consecutive rushes for 19 yards to the Alabama 28-yard line.
The Crimson Tide offense opened the fourth quarter with seven consecutive running plays, marching to the Florida 20-yard line, highlighted by a 21-yard pickup by Harris. A five-yard screen pass from Hurts to Stewart moved the ball inside the red zone. Two more rushes by the Tide gained two yards before a personal foul penalty on the Gators moved the ball to first and goal at the Gator seven. Scarbrough took the ball the rest of the way on two rushes, including a one-yard plunge up the middle for a touchdown. Griffith’s extra point was true and Alabama led, 47-16, with 9:15 left in the game.
Back-to-back sacks of Appleby brought Florida’s next drive to a close. Diggs returned a 42-yard Townsend punt 36 yards to the Florida 21-yard line. Gore took the ball into the end zone on four consecutive carries, including a 10-yarder up the middle for a touchdown. Placekicker Andy Pappanastos came on for the extra point, which was good, moving the Alabama lead to 54-16.
Florida finished the game with the ball, covering 20 yards on six plays before time ran out, sealing Alabama’s’ third consecutive SEC title.
Alabama’s 13-0 record marked the third time in the Crimson Tide’s illustrious history that an Alabama team has had a 13-0 mark. The other times were at the conclusion of the 1992 national title season and through 13 games of the Tide’s 2009 national title year, a team that finished 14-0. With the victory over the Gators, Alabama has won three consecutive SEC titles for the third time in its history and the first time since 1977-78-79. Alabama’s other SEC title streaks include winning five straight (1971-72-73-74-75) and three straight (1964-65-66).
With the victory over the 15th-ranked Gators, Alabama has defeated 15 consecutive ranked opponents dating back to a loss to Ole Miss in September of 2015. Alabama’s all-time record against ranked opponents is 153-124-7 (.551). The Tide is 124-75-3 (.621) as a ranked team playing a ranked opponent. Alabama is 12-8-0 (.600) against Florida when the Gators are nationally ranked.
The victory improved Alabama’s record against Florida to 25-14-0 (.641) all-time, accounting for a vacated victory in 2005. The actual, on-field series record is 26-14-0 (.650) in favor of the Crimson Tide. Alabama has won the last six meetings in the series dating back to a 31-20 loss in the 2008 SEC Championship Game. Since Nick Saban took over as Alabama’s head coach in 2007, the Tide has won six of seven against the Gators, including the last six consecutive. Saturday’s game was televised by CBS and the Tide is 69-43-1 (.621) all-time in games televised by CBS.
Alabama now awaits Sunday’s announcement of the College Football Playoff (CFP) pairings, scheduled to be televised by ESPN beginning at 11:30 a.m. Central Time (CT). At that time, pairings for the CFP semi-final games at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and PlayStation Fiesta Bowl will be announced. Later on Sunday, beginning at 1:30 p.m. CT, ESPN will televise the unveilings of matchups in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Capital One Orange Bowl and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.