ATLANTA, Ga. – Alabama used a dominant performance by its defense and a spectacular second-half showing from running back Derrick Henry to defeat the Florida Gators, 29-15, capturing the Southeastern Conference championship at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. For the Crimson Tide, it was the 25th SEC title in their program’s history, including sixth SEC Championship Game victory.
“As I said out on the field, very proud of this team,” head coach Nick Saban said following the win. “I wanted to see those guys succeed today and win the second back-to-back SEC Championship and have an opportunity to get in the playoff.”
The Alabama defense stifled Florida’s offense for much of the game, holding the Gators to 180 total yards on 45 plays, including only 15 yards rushing on 21 attempts. In addition, Florida was limited to just seven first downs for the contest, while possessing the ball for only 16:31 compared to Alabama’s 43:29.
Still, in the first half, the Gators’ defense and special teams play kept them in the game. After the Crimson Tide opened the contest’s scoring with a safety on a blocked punt by Tide linebacker Keith Holcombe, Florida’s Antonio Callaway returned a punt for an 85-yard touchdown, giving the Gators a short-lived 7-2 lead.
Trailing 7-5 late in the second quarter, quarterback Jake Coker connected with Calvin Ridley for a 55-yard gain, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by Henry. For the game, Coker completed 18 of 26 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ridley tallied a game-high eight receptions for 102 yards.
After being limited to 65 rushing yards on 19 carries in the first half, Henry gained 124 on 25 attempts in the second, increasing his 2015 season rushing total to 1,986 yards while breaking the SEC single-season record for rushing yards previously held by Herschel Walker of Georgia (1,891 yards in 1981). Henry’s 189-yard rushing total this afternoon garnered him Most Valuable Player honors.
“Like Coach said, I’m very proud of the team,” Henry said following the game. “It’s a team effort. … We wanted to get to this SEC Championship, and we knew that we had to come battle every week and we got better week after week.”
Entering the second half holding a slight 12-7 advantage, Alabama began to pull away, scoring on a second field goal by Adam Griffith and two touchdown passes from Coker. Florida’s offense finally reached paydirt in the fourth period on a 46-yard pass from Treon Harris to receiver C.J. Worton before the Crimson Tide ultimately prevailed, 29-15.
Now, Alabama will wait until tomorrow to see if it is one of the four teams chosen by the Selection Committee for this season’s College Football Playoff—a foregone conclusion, one would assume.
“Well, I certainly think that this team deserves [to be one of the four playoff teams] being SEC champions—[we] were No. 2 [entering today],” Saban said. “I don’t know what they did out there tonight that would dispel their opportunity to play in a playoff.”