Ellis Island: UF Lineman Rare Defensive MVP in SEC Title Game

Defensive tackle Ellis Johnson blew up a bunch of plays and finished with two sacks in UF’s epic 24-23 defeat of unbeaten Alabama in the 1994 SEC title game and is one of just three defensive players named MVP of the game. Defensive tackle Ellis Johnson was a first-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1995 GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Before recalling the memorable part of the 1994 Florida football season, Ellis Johnson first was asked to reflect on an instance he’d just as soon forget.

Florida-Florida State. The 31-31 tie. The one now known as "Choke at the Doak."

"Horrible," Johnson said.

In a game against two of the nation’s heavyweights, the No. 4 Gators led the seventh-ranked Seminoles by 28 points in the fourth quarter at Tallahassee, only to allow four unanswered touchdowns and 250 fourth-quarter yards. In the post-game locker room, Johnson did not hide his displeasure with then-UF defensive coordinator Bobby Pruett and the decision to go away from the aggressive tactics that helped UF take a 31-3 lead that saw thousands of FSU fans filing out of Doak Campbell Stadium.

[Worth noting: I was there at Johnson’s locker afterward. He wasn’t happy.]

His present-day recollections of that game weren’t nearly as colorful (or loud), but the bitterness was still noticeable 21 years later. Even over the phone. Ellis Johnson, now 43 and looking quite dapper. "I didn’t like the change in the defensive game plan in the second half versus the first half," Johnson, now 43, an All-America defensive tackle and first-round draft pick, said earlier this week. "It just [ticked] me off that we didn’t stay with the attack-type defense in the second half. We went more preventative and let ’em catch it underneath and all that. That’s why I was so upset. I thought we should have taken it to them and just gone on and seen what happened. I didn’t like that."

Clearly.

And just as clearly was the rage Johnson and his defensive teammates — some great ones, like Kevin Carter, Henry McMillian, Dexter Daniels and Larry Kennedy — took with them seven days later to the Georgia Dome. It would be the first Southeastern Conference Championship Game played in Atlanta, after the previous two years at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The No. 3 Gators (9-1-1) would face third-ranked and No. 3 Alabama (11-0) for the third straight time in the conference’s showcase event.

What Florida showed that night was remarkable resilience, bouncing back from that crushing tie (which felt like a loss) and upending the unbeaten Tide 24-23 in one of the all-time SEC classics. Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound tour de force inside, finished with five tackles, including a game-record three for loss, a pass breakup and two sacks of Bama quarterback Jay Barker on his way to being named the game’s most valuable player. In pivotal moments of the game, especially the second half, Johnson was involved in timely, drive-killing plays.

"I guess the people voting that night paid a lot of attention to […]