Alabama football runs table to win SEC Championship Game but not without a struggle | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

ATLANTA — All the boxes were checked in the end: the SEC championship, the first and only all-league 11-0 record and, certainly, the No. 1 ranking when the College Football Playoff semifinals are announced Sunday morning.

It didn’t come easy. It didn’t come cheap. 

Christian Harris sealed Alabama's 52-46 win over Florida on Saturday by sacking Kyle Trask on the final play, the rare defensive highlight. It took everything that Alabama’s offense could muster to make it happen. 

Florida was within four points as the fourth quarter started. It was still within seven points with just over six minutes to play, and six in the final minute. Alabama’s defense seemed to be back on its heels.

Report card:Grading the Tide in the SEC Championship Game win over Florida

The offense took over, scoring a touchdown that simultaneously could have sealed the Crimson Tide’s win and may have damaged its playoff hopes as Landon Dickerson, heart and soul of the offensive line, was injured in some sort of scrum and had to leave the field on a cart. Words were exchanged. Heat was generated. The real question, though, is whether Dickerson is done for the year. 

There are two ways to look at it, glass half-full or, if you were an Alabama fan agonizing through the fourth quarter, several glasses, most empty but one with a bit of bourbon lingering in the half-empty state. Perhaps, the optimist might say, Alabama needed a little adversity, a jolt to the system, a flushing of any potential rat poison. 

The bright side: maybe Alabama needed a test. Maybe all the points it had rolled up in dominating win after dominating win needed a context. They needed to be points in a game where every point mattered.

The not-so-bright side: every potential playoff opponent was watching, and what they saw was hope.

Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate a touchdown is called after a review during the fourth quarter against the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama was definitely dominant on offense in the first half, but it didn’t come entirely without Florida’s help. Three different Crimson Tide drives were enhanced by Gator penalties in third-down situations, once when Florida jumped offside and turned a third-and-10 into a more manageable third-and-5. Twice more, Florida appeared to have stopped drives but prolonged one with a defender called for hands to the face and lost another stop on an illegal substitution call. 

Florida reversed all that momentum in the third quarter, essentially on one play, a deep ball to Trevon Grimes that turned Patrick Surtain, normally a ballhawk, into a fluttering parakeet. Whether he simply made a misjudgment or lost the ball in the lights, he opened the door and Florida walked through it.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Florida during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Gators spent the rest of the game as unwelcome guests, keeping Alabama from tidying things up the way it has in every other fourth quarter this season. The Gators kept on fighting even when a fumble by Trask at his own 10 left their chin exposed for a knockout blow. Instead, they held Alabama to a field goal and fought on. 

Anyone who had seen Alabama’s defense against Ole Miss knew there was more than a speck of mortality. Now, everyone knows. But perhaps Alabama needed the reminder, just not the heart attack that almost went with it.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com