No. 1 Tide overwhelms No. 15 Gators

Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) falls to the ground as Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) stands over him during the second half of the Gators’ 54-16 loss against top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship in Atlanta Saturday, December 3, 2016. Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun

ATLANTA — Coming into the SEC Championship Game, the Florida Gators were fully aware that to have a chance, any chance at all, of being even competitive against No. 1 Alabama, they would have to take care of the football.

1. No. 1 Alabama doesn’t need any help, but the Gators gave the Tide plenty, giving up a pick-six and a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter that set the tone for the day.

2. The struggling Florida offense actually put a serious dent in the nation’s top defense with the passing game, but coming up empty after having a first-and-goal at the 2 in the third quarter ended UF’s chances.

3. The Gators literally produced zero in the running game, finishing with no yards on 30 carries.

— Robbie Andreu

They did not. Instead, they were careless with it, gave it away, and the Crimson Tide made the Gators pay a heavy price for it in what would turn a promising beginning into a devastating conclusion — a 54-16 loss in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

“I’m proud of this football team. I’m proud of our guys, what they’ve gone through this year, this season,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “They came and laid it on the line today.

“Obviously, you’re not going to beat anybody giving them the ball four times, especially a team like Nick (Saban) has put together, which in my opinion, is the best team top to bottom he’s had since he’s been there.

“They’ve made some other teams turn the ball over. And I knew going in we had to take care of the ball. I talked about that, and we didn’t.”

The 24-point underdog Gators got off to a stunning and successful start, taking the opening kickoff and driving 64 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead on a defense that had not surrendered a touchdown since Oct. 22.

But that lead, coming on a 5-yard TD pass from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway, did not last long.

Because the Gators turned over the footballOn UF’s next possession, Appleby threw an interception that led to a Tide field goal.On the possession after that, Appleby made another poor throw that was intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick and returned 44 yards for a touchdown.On the next possession, Johnny Townsend’s punt was blocked and returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Josh Jacobs.Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged. Unfortunately, this article is either no longer in our system or is in a different location.To find additional or related content, you can check out latest articles or use our site search […]