Florida’s defense found out what it takes to a win a SEC Championship Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
In a 29-15 loss to Alabama, Gator defenders watched their teammates on offense get manhandled for four quarters.
The overwhelming feeling for Florida watching the Tide hoist the SEC Championship trophy for a second straight year wasn’t animosity, but respect.
“They know how to win,” Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “Nick Saban gets those boys right from the day they step on campus. He doesn’t mess around.”
While Florida’s offense sputtered, Davis was one of the Gators’ defensive leaders who kept the game close. The junior had eight tackles (six solo) with a pass breakup, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Florida’s defense eventually wore down as it spent five seconds shy of 14 minutes on the field in the third quarter.
“Our defense carried a lot of burden,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
Davis only saw the flaws in his team’s performance while marveling at the consistency of Alabama’s attack at the line of scrimmage and its physical style of play.
The Tide added five sacks to a season total (41) that’s already the highest in the Saban-era and hit quarterback Treon Harris 11 times.
“We know what it takes to get here now,” Davis said. “We have to push even more so we can win it next year.”
The close-up look at the best defense in the country left Florida with a blueprint to follow on the field and in recruiting.
“They won the line of scrimmage,” McElwain said. “That’s what big, strong, highly recruited guys do. That’s why we’re getting on the road as soon as we leave here now.”
Reggie Ragland smiled when he heard Davis’ appreciation of Alabama’s defensive approach. The Nagurski Trophy finalist acknowledged the group settles for nothing less than perfection in every area.
“We come in and work hard all the time and we try to set a standard for ourselves, we try to have a Bama standard that’s for no one but ourselves,” Ragland said.
Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen referenced the pursuit of excellence when he expressed disappointment in letting Florida finish with 15 yards rushing.
“You can always do better,” Allen said. “You would be surprised how many guys were upset when they actually got into positive for rushing yards. We were kind of upset on our sidelines.”
One player on the field Saturday who doesn’t think Florida’s defense has far to go is Alabama running back Derrick Henry.
“I think it's the best defense that we faced,” Henry said. “They're very physical, very disruptive, very fast on the defensive line. Athletic linebackers who are very physical and try to knock you out and good secondary. So I think it's the best defense that we've faced all year.”