What we learned as Alabama football, Najee Harris outlast Florida in SEC Championship Game

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

After weathering a third-quarter storm, Alabama regained control of the SEC Championship Game to beat Florida 52-46.

Here are three things we learned in Alabama’s win that likely solidified the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

Steve Sarkisian has more up his sleeve

Countless new shifts and motions in the opening possessions were just the beginning. Before the game was over, Alabama would unveil a tight end used on a quarterback sneak, a fullback dive and an extensive package of running back Najee Harris as a perimeter wide receiver, which contributed to his five catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns.

Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has flashed creativity in spurts throughout the season, especially in ways to continue helping DeVonta Smith get open, and Saturday saw him open up even more of what is presumably an extensive books of tricks. As Alabama is poised to play games of increasing importance in weeks to come, opposing defenses will be left wondering what Sarkisian has saved for them.

Alabama’s defensive imperfections back on display

After weeks of impressive performances against less-than-stellar offenses, facing the playmakers and scheme of Florida brought some of the imperfections of the season’s opening weeks back to life.

Some individual and collective coverage busts led to big receiving performances from Kadarius Toney (eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown) and Trevon Grimes (four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown). An inability to adjust to quarterback Kyle Trask as a somewhat prominent ball carrier led to two crucial third-down conversions in Florida’s third-quarter comeback.

As Alabama looks forward to the College Football Playoff, it has a chance to face offenses with even more weapons than Florida has, and coaching staffs with more time to prepare.

Alabama can rise to a crucial moment

It would be understandable if a team that has won 10 games by an average of 32.7 points had little understanding of how to go about its business in the stressful moments of a close game. Instead, Alabama showed a mettle that it had not needed until Saturday.

The Crimson Tide ended Florida’s first possession of the fourth quarter with a forced fumble on the first play, coming after a much-needed touchdown to extend the lead to 11. The ensuing field goal put Florida’s chances of winning in regulation at next to nothing. A forced fumble on a second-and-goal from the 1 was called off by an offside penalty, but had it been upheld, it would’ve ended any chance the Gators had at a comeback.

In two nervy possessions in the fourth quarter, Alabama scored on the both, one field goal and one touchdown. The touchdown came on a commanding four-play, 66-yard march down the field.

Alabama will find itself on a much bigger stages in less than two weeks, and possibly up against a better opponent. When it does, it can’t be said the Crimson Tide are not battle tested.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson