Well, the Gators’ dream season is over. Sorry Gator fans. No trip to California. See you on Bourbon Street on New Year’s.
If you’re a masochist and want to relive the pain, you can read all about last night’s 32-13 loss to Alabama in the Post’s game coverage.
* My game story: Perfection Denied. Plenty of detail about the Gators’ post-game locker room and what this loss means in the big picture.But thanks to deadlines and space crunch, we couldn’t cover every angle of last night’s game.
* Dave George’s column: Showing Tebow crying on the Jumbotron was a cheap shot.
* My sidebar on the distractions this week: Carlos Dunlap and Charlie Strong.
* And Kyle Maistri’s sidebar on the defense completely falling apart.
Here, then, is everything else you ever wanted to know about the SEC Championship. Warning: A lot of info here. Not for the faint of heart.
We can talk all we want about distractions and motivation and intangibles, but this game came down to Alabama kicking the Florida defense in the rear.
Here is a comparison of the Gators’ defensive stats through their first 12 games and Alabama’s domination Saturday night. These numbers may make your head explode.
|First 12 Games ||Saturday |
|Points allowed ||9.8 ||32 |
|Yards allowed ||233.1 ||490 |
|Rushing yards allowed ||89.9 ||251 |
|Time of Possession allowed ||28:31:00 ||39:37:00 |
|Third Down conversions allowed ||26 pct ||73.3 pct |
Since Jan. 1, 2008, actually, when Chad Henne and Michigan put up 524 yards and 41 points on Florida.
The most shocking stat is the time of possession. Alabama held onto the ball for FORTY MINUTES.
“Couple guys made the comment on the sidelines, ‘We can’t get in a rhythm,’” receiver David Nelson said.
And, of course, the Gators’ baffling inability to stop Alabama on 11 of 15 third downs.
“The key to the game today was we did a better job on third down,” Nick Saban said.
The problem, Urban Meyer said, was missed tackles. “I know we had more than single digit,” Meyer said. “So that’s a fundamental on defense, and I’m sure every school has it. Don’t take away the credit from those players you play against, either. Those are good backs. But we got to tackle better.”
THE GATORS GOT OUT-TEBOWED
The Crimson Tide tried to downplay it all week (and really all season), but it was clear that the players were fueled all year long by last year’s 31-20 loss to Florida.
“Ever since last year when we walked off that field, everything we did, we did to beat Florida,” running back Mark Ingram said.
Saban said he actually used Tebow as an example for his players on how to succeed in pressure-filled situations.
“We actually used — and I told Tim this standing outside — some of the characteristics he has, in terms of being a phenomenal competitor, as an example to our guys,” Saban said.
Saban, not Meyer, was the master motivator this time around.
“There was a time when we had a team meeting after the Sugar Bowl, right before we started the offseason program back in February, that we kind of showed a picture to the players of the SEC championship,” Saban said. “We would have some difficult times, but that we had to work to beat the best team in our league. And everything you do, every time you go to work, every time we lift weights, every time you run, every time you practice, it’s not to be as good as the guy you’re playing against. It’s to be as good as the guy you have to beat to be the champion.”
“We told the players a story yesterday about Sugar Ray Leonard, who actually said that the first time I fought in a championship fight, I lost. The thing I remember about the second time I fought for the championship and won was I had an unrelenting, not-to-be-denied, intangible attitude, and I was going to have to do it for 15 rounds and go toe-to-toe, and that’s what made me win.”
Charlie Strong said he has not had any personal contact with Louisville, but did not deny the rumor that he is interviewing for the job today in Tampa. Receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Billy Gonzales also did not deny that he could leave with Strong to become his offensive coordinator.
Safeties coach Chuck Heater said after the game that Strong was a consummate professional this week in preparing for Alabama. When told that the perception of Strong will be that he didn’t focus enough on Alabama, Heater said the truth is “incredibly the opposite.”
“We sit in a room together for about 16 hours a day. We don’t leave the room even to take phone calls,” Heater said. “Charlie is a true professional in that regard.”
Saw a pretty touching scene in the bowels of the Georgia Dome about 90 minutes after the game ended.
Tebow, his eyes finally dry after a long cry session, was being consoled by a man wearing an Alabama hat while standing with about 10 of Tebow’s family members and friends.
It took a second, but I recognized him as former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, a former Tide running back who apparently has known Tebow since high school.
Alexander brought a smile to everyone’s face and told Tebow to cheer up.
“I just love that kid,” Alexander said. “He represents a lot of good things. I remember being in those shoes. Sometimes you feel like you have to carry the whole world. Any time you do too many things too good, people love you, then they hate you cause you’re doing things wrong. I just told him he represents a Godly kingdom well, and he represented his school very well, so he’ll be alright ”
“I said, ‘Bro, I love you, we’ll get ready for the pros and we’ll do it. That world’s crazier than this world. Whenever you need me I’ll be there.”
GREG MCELROY’S BIG GAME
McElroy, a first-year starter, sliced up the Gators’ secondary for 239 yards on just 18 attempts to win the game’s MVP honors.
“He did show a lot of poise for a first-year quarterback. You saw it coming,” Meyer said.
McElroy, though, apologized after the game for flexing his bicep after a big play, which angered some Gator fans.
“I don’t have a lot to show off,” he joked. “It was totally by accident. But yeah, we were all emotional. Why wouldn’t you play the game if you didn’t care? This is what we put in all our time for.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
Definitely Ingram’s 69-yard screen pass at the end of the first half. Florida had just closed the gap to 12-10 and stolen the momentum away, but Alabama took it right back with Ingram’s huge catch and run.
“That big screen pass was a huge momentum shift,” Meyer said.
FLORIDA’S OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES
Florida gained just 335 yards Saturday, and was shut out in the second half. Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin said on ESPN’s College Game Day that Florida has a penchant for committing bad penalties and playing undisciplined football, and, incredibly, the game played out exactly that way.
The Gators committed five penalties for 51 yards and threw an interception, while Alabama did not turn the ball over and committed one penalty for 5 yards. Jeff Demps dropped an easy swing pass, and Aaron Hernandez dropped a ball near the goal line.
“We just didn’t make plays,” Nelson said. “We didn’t execute. Killed ourselves early in the game with penalties and dropped passes.”
The Gators also couldn’t establish any sort of running game. They called just four run plays for guys other than Tebow, and ran just 14 times overall, compared to 35 passing attempts.
“We didn’t get our backs going,” Meyer said. “But it seemed like we were behind and we were trying to play catch-up the entire night.”
HALFTIME LOCKER ROOM
The Gators trailed 19-13 at halftime but felt confident about their chances entering the second half.
“We actually had a little bit of confidence going into that locker room, because we thought our defense would tackle a little better in the second half,” Meyer said. “So there was some energy, some juice, some confidence in that locker room. The second quarter, the momentum kind of bounced back in our lap. I kind of expected us to come out and play very well in the third quarter, and we didn’t do that.”
POST-GAME LOCKER ROOM
More like a morgue than a locker room. Imagine the sound of 100 players and coaches showering and changing in complete silence. Seriously, not one word. Nelson sat crying in his uniform for about 45 minutes after the game. James Wilson couldn’t control the tears, either. Questions about the game were mostly met with icy stares and “no comments.”
Nelson, to his credit, spoke up for most of the players.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my entire life, just because I wanted it so badly,” he said. “We’ve trained so hard. Everything we’ve done, everything we worked for and everything we wanted was for this moment. It’s very empty. For a year and a half we’ve trained for this moment, and we’ve trained for this game, for situations like this. To train that hard and train that long and to wait this long and to get to this moment and just not come through, it’s heart breaking.”
*Tebow’s eye black: John 16:33. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
*Tebow, on what Saban said to him after the game: “I can’t remember everything. He just said, ‘Keep your head up. You’re a great player, you’ve had a great career, and just keep your head up and don’t change who you are.’”
*Tebow, on his end zone interception to Javier Arenas in the fourth quarter: “They were going to bring a no deep look, and so I wanted to bring zone in, and then they checked out of it. I thought I could fit it in there, tried to get it over his head. He did a good job playing up and bailing. It was a good play by him and a bad decision by me.”
*Tebow, on the big picture: “Obviously I’m emotional, as you can see, after games, and it means a lot to me. But at the end of the day it’s not really what matters. We’re playing a game. Although it is extremely important and it’s fun, and we put hours and days and weeks into it, it’s still just a game.”
UP NEXT: SUGAR BOWL
The official announcement will come sometime tonight between 8 and 9, but the Gators will almost certainly play Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Now the players have to find the motivation to play one last game, though Nelson said it won’t be hard for the seniors.
“It’s one more chance for us to win this year,” he said. “One more chance to put on this helmet. One more chance to represent the Gator Nation.”