Everyone expect Alabama to roll over and hand Florida the SEC Championship and the keys to the BCS title game. The de facto BCS semifinal game was really not expected to be close. But Alabama hung around and played like they were actually deserving of the Number 1 ranking that basically fell into their lap. Alabama played like they belonged in the SEC title game and gave Florida their toughest match since the Mississippi game. However, one play doomed the Tide. One play changed the remainder of the game and gave Florida the opening that they needed to put it away. And it is likely not as obvious as you might think.
After Florida took a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, Alabama started with great field position after Javier Arenas’s kickoff return. There were nine minutes and change remaining in the game. And on first down, Alabama ran a go route to Julio Jones down the sideline. It would have been a tough catch for the freshman to make, but as it was the pass was incomplete. I believe that this play was the actual turning point of the game and ended up dooming Alabama.
When Florida drove down on their first possession of the game, I first saw Hawai’i/Georgia from the Sugar Bowl. Georgia moved at will against UH and looking overpowering. UF looked the same on that opening drive. However, Alabama did not panic. The deep in pass to Jones from John Parker Wilson was not intended to bust big, but did thanks to the power and skill of Jones to break a tackle and run after the catch. A strong run by Glen Coffee and the game is tied.
After Arenas’s peculiar step-out on a kickoff in the second quarter, Alabama started with the ball at their own four. Alabama would go three-and-out and give Florida great field position. Tim Tebow took advantage and Florida grabbed a 17-10 lead — one that they carried into halftime. Again, Alabama could have folded, but came back to start the third quarter by stopping the Gators on three-and-out and got the ball back. Then it was vintage Alabama football as the Tide took 15 plays to score a TD and tie it up. After another stop of the Gators, the Tide kicked a field goal and took the lead — 20-17.
Each time Florida seemed to take control, Alabama stuck to their game plan and came back. They showed great poise and never seemed to panic. So while you could point to the Arenas gaffe [stepping out at the four-yard line on a kickoff] or the weird fake field goal by P.J. Fitzgerald as plays that doomed Alabama, the Tide was able to overcome those. It did not make things easier, but Alabama rose up. And certainly the late interception sealed the game, but that was not the doom play. And that pick would likely not had happened if Alabama did not throw deep on first down with nine-minutes to go.
The deep pass almost appeared desperate. As I stated above, the deep in route by Jones in the first quarter was not intended to gain 64 yards; Julio made that play. The go route was intended to pick up big yards. There was still a lot of time remaining in the game. And Alabama’s running game was doing damage. But the deep ball suddenly went against the established game plan that was working! It looked like a panic move. Granted, had it connected, we are talking about a great play. But it was such a high risk considering that Alabama was only down four. It was like trying to hit a three pointer when you are down by one and there are still 20 seconds on the 24-second clock. The incompletion lead to second and long. After a short Coffee run, a wonderfully executed stunt by the Florida D-line lead to a sack of Wilson by Jermaine Cunningham. Punt; Tebow drive; ball game.
In a game that was very tactical, that call was an error that threw off the game plan and ultimately cost Alabama a shot at their 30th national title [or however many Tide fans believe they have]. Nevertheless, congrats to the Gators. An Oklahoma/Florida game [assuming that is how it falls] will be one hell of a game to watch.