To get the obvious out of the way: The 2015 SEC Championship Game is not going to go down in history as one of the great college football games of all time or even one of the best editions of the conference's title game. Both offenses seemed lost in the first quarter, and didn't do much better in the second; at halftime, the Alabama Crimson Tide was lead the Florida Gators, 12-7, in a sluggish game.
Then, Alabama did what it always does in games like this: Slowly, methodically took it over with a punishing running game and stifling defense. The Tide ripped off 17 unanswered points, and by the time that Florida tacked on eight points late in the fourth quarter, there was no doubt that the Tide would eventually win. Final margin: 29-15.
On defense, it would be hard to fault what the Tide did in this game, even against the beleaguered Florida offense. The Gators were limited to 180 total yards and seven first downs (the majority of those after the game was out of reach), while holding the ball for less than 17 minutes. Florida was 0-for-11 on third down conversions, averaged 0.7 yards per run -- they were in danger of ending up with negative rushing yardage until late in the fourth quarter -- and ran just 45 offensive plays. Treon Harris was 9-of-24 passing for 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Not that the Tide has an easy go of it, at least early. Alabama gained just 175 yards in the first half, and Derrick Henry had been limited to 65 yards on 19 carries -- an average of 3.4 yards per attempt -- with is longest run going for nine yards. Only one of Alabama's first five drives covered more than 20 yards -- and that one went for 23.
The scoring started out ironically, with an Alabama safety on a blocked punt. Florida soon put together a 69-yard drive, but ended up settling for a missed field goal. The first signs of life for the Gators came early in the second quarter, when Antonio Calloway returned a punt 85 yards to give Florida a 7-2 lead.
The Tide followed that up with a field goal drive and then with a touchdown set up by an absurd 55-yard pass from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley. It was one of a handful of foolhardy throws by Coker that ended up working out for Alabama. The Tide quarterback ended the game 18-of-26 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
In the second half, though, Alabama turned it on. The Tide scored two touchdowns and a field goal in its first four drives of the second half, with the other resulting in a missed field goal. In between, Florida ran eight plays for minus-7 yards, managing an offensive touchdown for the first time in two games with about five minutes to go in the game.
The win also likely solidified Derrick Henry's place as the favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Henry actually had a lackluster day, at least by his standards. The running back carried the ball 44 times for 189 yards and a touchdown -- but that's an average of 4.3 yards per rush, his third-smallest total of the season. And that came only after some stronger running in the second half. The only teams to hold him to smaller averages were Louisiana-Monroe, against whom Henry ran the ball just 13 times, and Arkansas.
But Henry did set the SEC record for rushing yards in a season (1,986), and will go to the playoffs with an opportunity to put together the first 2,000-yard season in the history of the conference. The Heisman was probably Henry's to lose going into Saturday evening, and he didn't lose it.
The same could be said for the Tide. Sitting at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Alabama didn't really need any style points. As long as they won, Nick Saban and Co. knew they were headed to the bracket for the second consecutive years. It wasn't the prettiest route to the playoffs for the Tide, but the scenic route isn't always the best way to get where you're going, and Alabama is still headed in the right direction.