If you told me before last Saturday that the #18 Florida Gators were only going to lose by 15 to the mighty #2 Alabama Crimson Tide, I would have laughed in your face. I predicted a 44-0 beatdown in the SEC Championship and fortunately I was way off as the Tide defeated the Gators 29-15. Despite just a 14-point margin of defeat, this game was not close. Alabama controlled it the whole way.
This time around, I am not even going to begin with another poor showing from the Gator offense. Instead, I will start with special teams. This is probably the worst I have seen the special team unit play since that debacle against South Carolina last year in The Swamp. The legendary Johnny Townsend proved to be human as his second punt of the day was blocked for a safety.
I will not let that one block, however, cloud the fact however that Townsend did send off eight punts for 414 total yards, an average of 51.8 yards per kick, a long of 57 yards, and one kicked downed inside the Alabama 20-yard line.
After the safety, Austin Hardin did what he does best and had his only field goal attempt of the game blocked. Hardin's fifth straight miss prompted Coach Mac to use walk-on kicker Neil MacInnes for an extra point, and the pre-dental student converted for his first make of his collegiate career!
Even though the Gators had two kicks blocked, there was one positive that came out of the special teams unit from this game. In the second quarter, Antonio Callaway put himself in the record books as he ran back a punt for an 85-yard touchdown return. In the process, he set the record for the longest punt return in SEC Championship history! I could not have been more than happy for Callaway considering he had muffed a return earlier in the game deep in Gator territory.
Alabama definitely won the war, but in that brief moment, Florida was winning the battle. The Gators led for a little over nine minutes before Alabama took charge and reminded us all who the better team was.
Offensively, Florida only scored a touchdown because C.J. Worton (the brother of former stud UCF wide receiver J.J. Worton) made an insane catch on a prayer thrown up by "quarterback" Treon Harris. It was another pitiful outing by Treon as he went 9 of 24 passing for 165 yards and one interception. He was sacked five times.
If there is one moment I would say that sums up how bad the Gator offense is when Treon plays, it would have to be what occurred near the end of the first half. Treon threw the ball and it was deflected (shocker) right back to him. So, for some unknown reason, he rolled out to his left and then just chucked the ball downfield. The refs hit him with an illegal forward pass penalty and I sat there dumbfounded at what I had just seen.
What quarterback who plays for a D1 school does not know that you cannot throw the ball twice? He has no football IQ whatsoever! To make matters even worse, his illegal pass was not even completed to anyone besides his No. 1 receiver known simply as "the turf". If you are gonna commit a penalty, at least hit a receiver for goodness sakes!
After the poor play of Treon, it only gets worse as the Gators ran for a total of (get ready for this)... 15 yards! As I feared, the ground game was nonexistent and the game had to be put in Treon's hands. The offense mustered just 180 total yards, which is less yardage than I earn playing three minute quarters on NCAA Football 14. That is a problem.
Florida had seven first downs compared to Alabama's 25. They were 0 for 11 on third down conversions and ran 45 offensive plays compared to Alabama's 84. Going to back to last year's matchup in Tuscaloosa, Florida has not converted a third down against Alabama.
Let the following sink in: The Gators had the ball on offense for a grand total of 1:05 in the third quarter. The least amount of time Alabama ever had the ball was 8:25 in the first quarter. Wow. Florida has the WORST offense in the country. If not the country, then definitely the worst among Power-Five teams.
On the other side of the ball, Florida was unable to knock Tide running back Derrick Henry out of the Heisman race as he ran for 189 yards and one touchdown. In this game, he tied the SEC single-season touchdown record set by Gator QB Tim Tebow and Auburn running back Tre Mason. In the passing game, 'Bama QB Jake Coker torched Florida as he completed 18 of 24 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. The Tide rolled for 437 yards on offense.
The Gator defense dug in and did its best to quell Alabama's offense as Antonio Morrison led the Gators with 11 tackles (one for loss) in his first and last ever SEC Championship. Following him was Marcus Maye with nine tackles and a fumble recovery. After Maye, four different Gators had eight tackles. They were Matt Rolin, Keanu Neal, Jarrad Davis (0.5 for loss, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble), and Jonathan Bullard (2.0 for loss and a sack).
The only other Gator besides Bullard to record a sack was Bryan Cox Jr., who had seven total tackles (1.5 for loss) and a forced fumble. The last Gator defender I will mention is good ol' Vernon Hargreaves III. Also playing in his first and last SEC Championship, Vern faired well as he notched five tackles (1.0 for loss) and two pass breakups. He held his own against Alabama for two straight years, and is soon going to be one of the best corners in the NFL.
I am proud of this Gator team. 10-3 going into the bowl game is nothing to be ashamed of in Coach Mac's first year. This team was not even picked to win the SEC East! I am proud of our defense in this game for keeping it competitive as the offense continuously shot itself in the foot drive after drive.
I am not so proud of the offense for anything and I have no more comments on special teams. Losing by 15 points to Alabama honestly feels like a pseudo-victory to me. I mean, this offense was EMBARRASSING to watch on national TV, but at least they did not get shutout! I have no doubt that we will see these same two teams back in Atlanta for a rematch come next year. With the right QB at the helm for Florida, maybe I will see the Gators win a conference title before I graduate next December.
Until that day comes, it is on to the next one. #19 Florida's next opponent will be the #17 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl. Florida and Michigan have not hooked up in football since 2008, when the Wolverines defeated Heisman winner Tim Tebow and company by a score of 41-35 in the Capital One Bowl. Coincidentally enough, that game was in Orlando just like this upcoming matchup is.
The headline is glorious. We got two first-year head coaches in Jim McElwain and Jim Harbaugh (how 'bout that they both have the name "Jim") with programs on the rise. This will be a good preview of sorts considering Florida and Michigan are kicking off the 2017 college football season in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium.
The game is at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day and can be seen on ABC. As for my prediction, I am picking #17 Michigan. I do not believe in Florida's offense. It is that simple. I would love to see the Gator's prove me wrong, but I am sticking with the Blue. Regardless if Florida begins 2016 with a win or loss, it has been a phenomenal season for the Orange and Blue.
As for the SEC Champion and #2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1), they are in the same position as last season with a semifinal victory separating them from a National Championship berth. Their opponent is the mighty Big Ten Champion #3 Michigan State Spartans (12-1), who may just have what it takes to stop potential Heisman winner Derrick Henry on the ground.
This is going to be an awesome game and it takes place one day before the Gators' on December 31st. The game can be seen on ESPN at 8 p.m. and the site for all the action will be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. My prediction for this game? Well, all I am gonna say is Roll Tide Roll!
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com