University of Florida

Florida Gators defense plays tough but wears down again

Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) runs against Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Ridley was injured on the play.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) runs against Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson (6) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Ridley was injured on the play. AP

Although Florida’s offense couldn’t muster anything in Saturday’s 29-15 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the No. 18 Gators’ stingy defense played lights out once again before a similar script unfolded for the second week in a row.

After Florida State’s Dalvin Cook ran wild in the fourth quarter last weekend, Crimson Tide tailback Derrick Henry rushed for 124 yards in the second half. Heisman-hopeful Henry didn’t have a run longer than 9 yards until late into the third quarter, slowly grinding a gassed defense into submission.

But the Gators played well to start, forcing Alabama to punt on four of its first five possessions — nearly forcing an early turnover with a strip-sack.

They made Henry fumble, too, but it simply wasn’t enough.

“I thought our defense battled their tails off,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “Our defense carried a lot of the burden, and yet, there was no quit in our team.”

Florida lost the time-of-possession battle by nearly 28 minutes, with a familiar script unfolding in the second half. Alabama gained 262 of its 437 yards after halftime.

PRO CHOICES

Junior All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said he plans to leave early for the 2016 NFL Draft, but star linebacker Jarrad Davis emphatically stated he will return to school for his senior season.

Davis is second on Florida with 94 tackles and recorded eight stops in Saturday’s loss.

Meanwhile, a pair of other UF juniors were noncommittal about their futures. Wideout Demarcus Robinson and safety Keanu Neal said they haven’t decided about entering the NFL Draft yet.

NO MILESTONE

UF junior tailback Kelvin Taylor needed just 23 yards to become just the seventh player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.

He didn’t come close.

Against the nation’s top-ranked rush defense, Taylor easily delivered his worst game of the season, registering just 8 yards on seven carries. In two career games against the Tide, Taylor has just 18 yards.

“They won the line of scrimmage,” McElwain said. “That’s what big, strong, recruited guys do.”

Florida’s makeshift offensive line simply couldn’t create any movement or creases against Alabama’s monstrous front, as the Gators rushed for 15 yards as a team — their lowest total since 2011 against Georgia.

THIS AND THAT

Alabama became the first tream since Tennessee in 1997-98 to win back-to-back SEC titles. … Alabama is 4-4 against Florida in SEC Championship Games. … The Tide became the first time in title game history to block a field goal and a punt in the same game.

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