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Quarter-by-quarter look at the SEC championship game

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe (42) and Alabama linebacker Christian Miller (34) block the punt of Florida punter Johnny Townsend (19) during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Alabama scored a safety on the play. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Alabama linebacker Keith Holcombe (42) and Alabama linebacker Christian Miller (34) block the punt of Florida punter Johnny Townsend (19) during the first half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Atlanta. Alabama scored a safety on the play. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Alabama (11-1; 7-1 SEC) takes on Florida (10-2; 7-1) in the SEC Championship game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015 at the Georgia Dome.

Follow along as we post updates after each quarter on the top players, key moments and game-changing decisions.

FOURTH Quarter: Alabama 29, Florida 15

Key Player (s)

Alabama’s front seven gets the recognition as it closed out an all-around dominant performance.

They finished with five sacks, nine tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries while limiting Florida to 15 rushing yards.

It was fitting that the Gators’ last play on offense ended with backup linebacker Tim Williams sacking quarterback Treon Harris for a turnover on downs.

On a final possession that lasted five plays, Harris was pressured on three of them and tackled for a loss on another.

Key Moment

Quarterback Jake Coker needed his receivers to help him out on couple of deep throws earlier in the game, but give him all the credit for a terrific touchdown pass to Richard Mullaney in the fourth quarter.

With two defenders crossing in front of Mullaney, Coker zipped a ball into a tight window for the 9-yard score.

Coker’s second touchdown gave Alabama a 29-7 advantage with 8:50 to go in the game.

Key Decision

Florida might not have had many options on offense, but it was in desperate need of a shakeup at the start of the fourth quarter. The Gators defense looked physically exhausted as the offense failed on six straight drives to get a first down.

Coach Jim McElwain might have had to stick with backup Treon Harris, but just having the sophomore continue to drop back in the pocket without the ability to run the ball made a bad situation worse.

Harris’ touchdown pass at the 5:04 mark came way too late in the game to make a difference.  

THIRD QUARTER: Alabama 22, Florida 7

Key Player

Alabama running back Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s 34 year old SEC rushing record for yards in a season during the third quarter, but the Heisman hopeful took a back seat to teammate ArDarius Stewart.

Stewart made a leaping 32-yard touchdown grab to put Alabama up 22-7 lead with 2:49 left in the quarter.

The sophomore had to adjust his positioning in the end zone by coming back for the ball between two defenders. 

Key Moment

Florida linebacker Jarred Davis’ late hit on Jake Coker on the opening drive of the third quarter was a critical mistake.

Facing a third-and-10 at Alabama’s own 39-yard line, Coker threw an incomplete pass to O.J. Howard down the Gators’ sideline.

The penalty gave the Tide fresh set of downs across midfield and they eventually connected on a 30-yard field goal to extend their lead to 15-7.

Key Decision (s)

Alabama’s offensive game plan coming out was just about perfect in the third quarter. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin gave Florida a steady diet of Derrick Henry while mixing in some timely passes and a couple of well-executed quarterback draws.

The Tide finished with 171 total yards of offense in the quarter to Florida's two and a time of possession advantage of nearly 13 minutes.  

SECOND QUARTER: Alabama 12, Florida 7

Key Player

Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley had two catches for 62 yards in the quarter. While the numbers might seem modest, it was his 55-yard catch from Jake Coker with less than four minutes to go that set up the Tide’s first touchdown.

Despite strong coverage from Florida defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Marcus Maye, Ridley made the outstanding catch at the 3-yard line. Hargreaves blanketed Ridley through the entire process.

After the play, the freshman bounced to his feet showing a happy group of Tide fans he held onto the ball.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry scored two plays later to give his team a 12-7 lead going into halftime.

Key Moment

An electric return from true freshman Antonio Callaway had Gator fans in the Georgia Dome going wild.

Callaway’s 85-yard return for a touchdown set a new SEC championship game record beating the previous mark set in 1998 by Mississippi State’s Kevin Prentiss.

The speedy wide receiver fielded the punt with his back foot on his own 15-yard line. He picked up a head of steam and sprinted on a straight line through the middle of the field to put Florida up 7-2 with 11:54 to go in the first half.

Key Decision (s)

Florida quarterback Treon Harris' questionable decision-making in the pocket hurt his team in the second quarter.

The Gators finished the quarter with one yard of total offense with Alabama sacking Harris three times for a loss of 28 yards. Harris held on to the ball way too long in the pocket facing a talented defensive front.

Florida managed only 10 plays in the quarter and was 0 for 3 on third downs.

FIRST QUARTER: Alabama 2, Florida 0

Key Player

Florida defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. introduced himself early in the first quarter to Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, but it wasn’t with a handshake. Cox forced a fumble with a clean shot on Coker’s blindside. Alabama was able to recover, but the 14-yard loss ended a promising first drive.

On the Tide’s second possession, Cox helped force another punt when he put pressure on Coker again along with linebacker Jarrad Davis. Both Gators were credited with quarterback hurries on a play that ended with Jon Bullard sacking Alabama’s quarterback for a loss of seven.

Key Moment (s)

The first safety in the SEC title game since 2003 was a pivotal moment early in the game. After going three-and-out on its second possession, Florida had to punt from right outside its own end zone, but Johnny Townsend barely had time to handle the snap.

Damien Harris and Keith Holcombe came through the line and teamed up to knock the ball out of the back of the end zone to give Alabama a 2-0 with 9:05 to go in quarter.

A second special teams miscue by Florida was the other standout moment in the quarter. Austin Hardin had 40-yard field goal blocked by D.J. Pettway at the line of scrimmage.

The Gators field goal kicking woes were an issue all season as the team connected on 4 of 7 attempts going into the SEC championship game.

Key Decision

Florida coach Jim McElwain dialing up a deep pass attempt from the Gators’ own end zone paid off. The throw resulted in Treon Harris hitting true freshman Antonio Callaway for a gain of 46-yards at midfield.

Harris and Callaway have accounted for five of the team’s nine passing plays of 40 yards or more this season.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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