Alabama exposes a suspect Florida offense, wins SEC title

ATLANTA -- Nick Saban’s domination of his former assistants continues.

Jim McElwain, Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11, used smoke and mirrors to win 10 games and reach the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in Atlanta, but his Florida Gators were ultimately no match for the Alabama Crimson Tide, who dominated on defense and overcame a slow start to win 29-15 and claim a second straight conference title.

With the win, Saban improves to 8-0 against his former assistants, with each win coming by at least two touchdowns.

More importantly, the win means No. 2 Alabama is likely headed to the College Football Playoff for the second straight season.

What the win means for Alabama: The Tide struggled offensively against the best defense they have faced all season. Jake Coker spent much of the afternoon running for his life in the pocket, while his tailback, Derrick Henry, struggled to find running lanes. Alabama had to turn to an old-school way of doing things by relying on its special teams and defense. With a blocked punt, a blocked kick, a safety and two field goals, the Tide survived. Florida was forced to go three-and-out time and time again and had only one first-half touchdown -- on a punt return.

What the loss means for Florida: If Florida’s offense were half as good as its defense, McElwain would really have something. But there’s no masking the deficiencies of Treon Harris & Co. Without an SEC-caliber quarterback, the Gators couldn’t move the ball through the air against Alabama. With a shoestring offensive line, the running game wasn’t working, either. So the defense’s efforts in getting after the quarterback and bottling Henry for mostly short gains went for naught.

Uh, what? Harris was a mess. Other than a few heaves that connected for big yards, Florida’s sophomore quarterback was lost against Alabama’s defense. On one play, he threw a pass that was tipped, caught the ball himself and then tried to throw it downfield again when no one was open. The play ended with a penalty for an illegal forward pass. Two plays later, Florida was forced to punt.

Player of the game: You have to remind yourself sometimes that he’s only a true freshman. But Calvin Ridley doesn’t show any signs of youth when lined up at receiver for Alabama. If anything, he’s capable of looking like an Amari Cooper clone. Ridley is almost assured a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team this season; he showed why against a quality Florida secondary. The 6-foot-1 South Florida native had two jaw-dropping plays: a bone-chilling block in the first quarter and a 55-yard catch between two defenders that set up Alabama’s only first-half touchdown.

Stat of the game: Henry didn’t have many long runs against Florida’s defense, but he was effective nonetheless, with 189 yards rushing on 44 carries and a touchdown. He became the SEC record-holder for rushing yards in a single season late in the third quarter by passing former Georgia great Herschel Walker, who ran for 1,891 yards in 1981.