ATLANTA -- It's a final. Florida defeated Alabama 31-20 on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The victory likely secured the Gators' spot in the BCS title game at Dolphin Stadium on Jan.8.
UF 31, UA 20
Who says these Gators don't know how to win the fourth quarter? UF quarterback Tim Tebow made his case for the Heisman Trophy on the Gators second touchdown drive of the fourth quarter here at the Georgia Dome.
UF went 65 yards to take a 31-20 lead. Receiver Riley Cooper, Tebow's roommate, caught the score to put UF ahead by 11. After all this -- this incredible game -- it appeas that the Gators might actually cover the spread (10 points).
Tebow was beside himself after the touchdown throw. He ran to the student section and celebrated wildly then ran to his team and hugged injured receiver Percy Havin and shouted in Harvin's ear.
UF 24, UA 20
Tim Tebow and the Gators responded in a big way to Alabama's impressive third quarter. Tebow led the Gators 63 yards to retake the lead with 9:21 left in the game. Tebow optioned to Jeff Demps for the one-yard score to give UF a 24-20 lead. David Nelson had a key 32-yard reception on the drive and the inside pitch to tight end Aaron Hernandez on third-and-5 from the UA 9 was a great call by the Gators.
UA 20, UF 17
--After an impressive offensive drive from Alabama, the Tide settled for a 27-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin with 13 seconds left in the third quarter. UA receiver Julio Jones continues to contribute. He had a 22-yard reception on this drive to put Bama in field goal range. UA's offensive line is dominating.
Momentum is favoring the Tide after UF kicker Jonathan Phillips missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with 3:48 left in the third quarter. Phillips, who entered the game perfect on the year, pushed the kick wide right. A side note here, Phillips hasn't kicked a game winner since his sophomore year of high school.
Florida's drive stalled after a series of poor offensive plays. UF went to Demps one too many times and Tebow threw a pair of incompletions. The Gators are missing Percy Harvin right about now. Bama taking over at its own 25 with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
UA 17, UF 17
Alabama freshman receiver Julio Jones has four receptions for 104 yards. Three of those four catches came on Alabama's first scoring drive of the third quarter. Alabama tied the score at 17-all with 6:20 left in the third quarter when Mark Ingram rushed for a two-yard score.
Alabama converted twice on third down during the drive and moved the ball 92 yards for the score. Jones had receptions 18, 6 and 14 yards. Bama's offensive line dominated the Gators' front four during the drive. UA running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram are pounding the Gators linebackers thanks to huge holes in the offensive line produced by center Antoine Caldwell.
UF 17, UA 10
Welcome to the big time, David Nelson. The reserve receiver gave UF a 17-7 lead with 2:59 left in the first half with a five-yard touchdown pass from Tebow. Tebow has two touchdown passes this half. On this drive, Tebow converted a key third-and-long with a QB keeper near midfield. Tebow barrelled headlong into two Alabama defenders to make the first down. Later, Tebow delivered a strike to tight end Aaron Hernandez to the UA 4.
INJURY UPDATE: UF left guard Carl Johnson has a sprained knee. UF cornerback Joe Haden has returned from a sprained ankle.
Some halftime stats: Tebow has completed 8 of 13 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He has also rushed for 48 yards on 11 carries. Alabama's Glen Coffee has rushed for 62 yards on 10 carries.
FIRST-HALF THOUGHTS: Florida needed to remember how to play a close football game again. Alabama was a pretty good teacher. UA took a 10-7 lead but Florida scored on its final two possessions of the half to lead by 10 at the half.
--UF held Alabama to three-and-out on the Crimson Tide's second offensive possession of the second quarter but it came at a price. UF sophomore cornerback Joe Haden appeared to injury his knee during punt-return coverage. The entire defense crowded around Haden. This could be the return of Wondy Pierre-Louis.
UF 10, UA 10
--A 51-yard catch from Tim Tebow to receiver Riley Cooper led to a 24-yard field goal for the Gators with 8:59 left in the first half. It was a beautifully timed pass from Tebow. It gave the Gators first-and-goal from the UA 4 but Florida played it conservatively and settled for Tebow runs and a field goal.
UF is trailing for the second time this season here at the Georgia Dome. Alabama is leading 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and driving. Entering this game, UF trailed for 15:38 this season. The biggest deficit Florida has faced this year is seven points.
UA 10, UF 7
So much for UF's streak of first-quarter dominance. Alabama is the team surging here at the Georgia Dome in the first quarter. The Tide just took a 10-7 lead on a 30-yard Leigh Tiffin field goal. Bama started its drive on the UF 25 and UF's defense did a solid job of holding Alabama to only a field goal (3:28 in first quarter). DT Lawrence Marsh and CB Janoris Jenkins made impressive stops.
UA 7, UF 7
Joe Haden meet Julio Jones. Haden, UF's best cornerback, was abused by Jones, UA's freshman receiver for a 54-yard play moments after UF took a 7-0 lead. On the next play, UA running back Glen Coffee rushed for an 18-yard touchdown. Get ready for a great game, folks. UF 7, UA 7.
UF 7, UA 0
OK, be honest...who had UF receiver Carl Moore in the first-touchdown pool? Moore caught a three-yard touchdown pass from UF Tim Tebow to take a 7-0 lead with 8:17 to play. UF's defense held the Crimson Tide to three rushing plays and a punt to begin the game.
What a catch for Moore, who transferred from a northern California junior college over the offseason. Biggest catch of that guy's career. He went down low to make the grab, displaying excellent hands and athleticism. Runs by Tebow and Demps highlighted the drive. The Gators are looking good.
Teams taking the field here at the Georgia Dome. This place has never been so loud. Alabama appear to outnumber Florida fans but not by much. Brandon Spikes was a pregame captain for the coin toss and soaked in the atmosphere, waving his arms and looking upward at the expansive crowd.
--Florida's Percy Harvin is a no go today, according to the university. He was seen in sweat pants before the game.
Gator Clause is in the Hyatt in downtown Atlanta and currently watching a Christmas parade go by on Peachtree Ave. There are dogs and storm troopers. Interesting.
ANYWAY, game day is here, finally. Fans are already screaming at each other here in downtown Atlanta. What a great week it was leading up to today's big game between No.2 Florida (11-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (12-0) in the Southeastern Conference championship.
We've written about the contrasting offensive styles of Florida and Alabama, the legacy of Tim Tebow and the softer side of Urban Meyer and how the depth of his personality has contributed to his success. We've also discussed Alabama coach Nick Saban and his remarkable turnaround of the Crimson Tide (and why he couldn't do the same thing for the Dolphins).
Today in the Miami Herald, our preview story touched on how Tebow actually fell in love with Alabama football his senior year at Ponte Vedra Beach Nease and almost committed to coach Mike Shula because of it.
On the blog, we've broken down the head-to-head match-ups that could mean the difference between winning and losing. We've also conducted an interview with college football legend Lou Holtz. If that wasn't enough perspective, we even interviewed a beat writer who covers Alabama for his perspective on the game. We swapped questions and Gator Clause managed to ENRAGE A BUNCH OF BAMA fans over on his blog ... very fun stuff.
I'm off to eat some breakfast, if you're at work or hanging out on the computer during the game, make sure to join us during today's game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. We'll be blogging live.
I'll leave you guys the highlight of Friday's press conference with Meyer and Saban. When asked if he marveled at Alabama's offense, Meyer said, "I don't marvel a lot."