The No. 1 Florida Gators (12-1) were denied a chance at their third National Championship in four seasons, falling 32-13 to the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA, while playing for the 2009 SEC Championship. The second consecutive meeting between the two schools for the SEC title, Alabama got revenge for its defeat in 2008 and will move on to the BCS National Championship game. Florida looks forward to an at-large bid and a likely berth in the Sugar Bowl.
Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy carved up the Gators’ defense to the tune of 490 total yards (the most ever allowed under head coach Urban Meyer) and 32 points (the most allowed by Florida since its loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2008). Ingram finished with 189 total yards and three touchdowns as he made a strong bid to claim Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy. McElroy was 12-of-18 for 239 yards and a touchdown and also made numerous big plays with his legs.
For the Gators, senior QB Tim Tebow was 20-of-35 for 247 yards and a touchdown; he ran the ball a team-high 10 times for a team-high 63 yards on the ground. His main target, junior tight end Aaron Hernandez, caught eight passes for 85 yards, while senior wide receivers Riley Cooper (three receptions for 77 yards) and David Nelson (four for 53 yards and a touchdown) led Florida on the outside.
Up 9-0 with 5:33 left in the first quarter, the Crimson Tide gave up a 48-yard field goal to junior kicker Caleb Sturgis to bring the game within a touchdown. Alabama would get the ball back and kick another field goal, though Florida followed that up with a 70-yard touchdown scoring drive in 1:36 to close the lead to 12-10. Seemingly back in the game, the Gators’ next shot on defense was short lived. Ingram took a McElroy screen pass 69 yards on the first play of the next possession, setting up his own three-yard scoring run to extend the lead back to 19-10. A celebratory Florida crowd immediately fell silent.
On the Crimson Tide’s first second half possession, McElroy finished a 74-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to TE Colin Peek, bringing the lead to 26-13. Then, up 32-13 after another Ingram score, Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas put a dagger in the Gators by picking off Tebow in the end zone with 11:51 left in the game.
Throughout the contest, ill-timed penalties haunted Florida. All five incurred by the Gators either negated a big play or an important defensive stand. The defense, which had only given up nine scrimmage touchdowns in its first 12 games, allowed the Crimson Tide to score four on Saturday night. Florida never led in the contest and went away from its run-first mentality, rushing the ball 14 times all game, 10 of which went to Tebow. Sophomore RB Jeff Demps only had one carry for nine yards while redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey touched the ball twice for seven yards.
The Gators will find out their bowl game fate on Sunday at 8 p.m. during the official BCS Selection Show on FOX. Florida is projected to receive an at-large bid for a spot in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA.