ATLANTA (AP) — Alabama showed off all its weapons in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Now, the Crimson Tide can expect a return trip to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff.
The nation’s No. 1 team scored off a blocked punt and an interception return Saturday before wearing down No. 15 Florida in the second half with a dominant running game. The result was a 54-16 rout that positioned Alabama to go for its second straight national title and its fifth crown in the last nine years under coach Nick Saban.
Next up: a likely semifinal game at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 31.
“You don’t always get what you want in life, but you mostly get what you deserve,” said Alabama’s Nick Saban, who already has five national titles and is one away from tying Bear Bryant for the most by any coach. “These guys have done fantastic job all year long to win 13 games and the SEC.”
The Crimson Tide (13-0, No. 1 CFP) bolted to a 16-9 lead in the first quarter, despite being held to minus-7 yards and no first downs. They scored one touchdown off a blocked punt, another off an interception return. A field goal was set up by another pick — one of three thrown by Florida quarterback Austin Appleby in the first half.
The Tide led 33-16 at halftime and iced the victory with scoring drives of 98 and 91 yards, sparked by a goal-line stand that finished off the last gasp by the Gators (8-4, No. 15 CFP).
Alabama finished with the second-most points ever scored on the Gators, topped only by Florida’s 62-24 loss to Nebraska for the national title in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
A 24-point underdog, Florida had a few shining moments against the nation’s only unbeaten Power Five team. The Gators marched the length of the field on the opening possession, the first touchdown given up by the Tide in more than 17 quarters. They had another long TD drive near the end of the first half to give themselves a glimmer of hope.
After Alabama went three-and-out to start the second half, Florida drove to the Crimson Tide 1. Jordan Scarlett attempted to leap over the line on third-and-goal, but he never even got off the ground; Rashaan Evans blew by his blocker and slammed the running back for a 1-yard loss. Appleby threw incomplete in the back of the end zone on fourth down, giving the Tide all the momentum.
Damien Harris broke off a 23-yard run, Jalen Hurts completed a 31-yard pass to ArDarius Stewart on third-and-19, and bruising Bo Scarbrough finished things off with a 34-yard run and a 2-yard touchdown.
The Tide went nearly as far on its next possession, driving from its own 9 for another touchdown that sent most of the Florida fans heading for the exit early in the fourth quarter. Scarbrough carried it six times, including a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
Florida coach Jim McElwain said Saban’s latest powerhouse is “the best team, from top to bottom, that he’s had since he’s been there.”
Alabama: The offense struggled in the first half against Florida’s highly ranked defense, and the defense surrendered a couple of long scoring drives. It may be a bit of nitpicking, but for one half at least the Tide didn’t look quite as a dominant as it did leading up to the SEC championship game. Of course, Alabama dominated the second half, rushing for 174 yards.
Florida: The Gators must address their offensive woes after another shaky performance, which included those three backbreaking interceptions in the first half. There’s no reason for a team with Florida’s resources, recruiting base and history to wind up with a unit that ranked No. 114 nationally in total yards before playing the Crimson Tide.
During a wild sequence in the first quarter, each team scored off blocked kicks on back-to-back plays.
Derrick Gore got a hand on a Florida punt, and Josh Jacobs scooped up the loose ball for a 27-yard touchdown return that gave Alabama a 16-7 lead. But Adam Griffith’s extra-point attempt was swatted down by Jabari Zuniga, David Reese picked it up and took off the length of the field to give the Gators a 2-point conversion.
Alabama will remain No. 1 in The Associated Press poll, as well as the College Football Playoff rankings. Florida can expect to drop four or five spots.
Alabama: Heads to the College Football Playoff for the third year in a row. The Tide will probably meet the No. 4-ranked team in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Florida: The Gators could still wind up with a major bowl bid as the SEC’s representative at the Sugar Bowl. But two straight ugly losses will likely keep the Gators closer to home at either the Citrus (Orlando) or Outback (Tampa).
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(9:51) Austin Appleby throws to Antonio Callaway for a 5 yard TD. Gators lead 7-0.
(6:58) Adam Griffith hits a 31 yard field goal. Gators lead 7-3.
(5:06) Minkah Fitzpatrick returns an interception 44 yards for a touchdown. Bama takes the lead 10-7.
(1:42) Joshua Jacobs returns a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown. Bama goes up 16-7.
(1:42) Gators block the PAT, return it for 2 points. Bama leads 16-9.
End of 1st Quarter
(11:55) Gehrig Dieter catches a 6 yard pass from Jalen Hurts for a touchdown. Bama leads 23-9.
(6:27) Adam Griffith hits a 25 yard field goal. Bama goes up 26-9.
(3:47) Joshua Jacobs runs it in from 6 yards out. Bama lead extended to 33-9.
(0:19) DeAndre Goolsby catches a 25 yard pass from Austin Appleby. Gators cut into the Bama lead, but still trail 33-16.
(3:32) Bo Scarborough runs it in from 2 yards out to expand Bama’s lead to 40-16.
End of 3rd Quarter.
(9:15) Bo Scarborough runs it in from 1 yard out to put Bama up 47-16.
(3:48) Derrick Gore runs it in from 10 yards out to bring Bama’s score to 54. Tide leads 54-16.
End of game.