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Florida Gators defense uncharacteristically falters in SEC Championship Game

Florida cornerback Joe Haden misses a tackle on Alabama running back Trent Richardson in the second quarter.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Florida cornerback Joe Haden misses a tackle on Alabama running back Trent Richardson in the second quarter.

ATLANTA — The message in the Florida locker room at halftime was simple: Feel lucky the game isn't out of hand yet.

This was especially true for the Gators' defense, which entered Saturday's SEC Championship Game as the nation's best in both points and yards allowed.

Alabama led by six at intermission, but it could've been worse after UF's defense allowed 19 points and 271 yards in the first 30 minutes. Both marks were higher than the unit's per-game averages in the regular season.

"Basically, we're not playing like us. That wasn't Florida out there, and we didn't play good, and we're still in the game," cornerback Joe Haden recalled after the game. "We were thinking we could come out and play good in the second half. We could get right back in the game."

But the second half wasn't any better for the Gators as the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on their first two second-half possessions en route to a 32-13 win. By the time it was all over, Alabama had racked up 32 points and 490 yards (251 rushing, 239 passing). That's more than three times the points UF had been allowing (9.8) and double the yardage (233.1).

"Everything we saw we knew what they were going to do," Haden said. "We just couldn't stop it."

The Crimson Tide scored on six of their first seven possessions. Alabama dominated time of possession, 39:37 to 20:23, and a big reason was its 11 third-down conversions in 15 tries.

Florida's defense hadn't allowed an opponent to convert even 50 percent of its third-down chances since Michigan converted 10-for-15 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, a 41-35 Wolverines victory.

A big reason for the Gators' defensive struggles was missed tackles. Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who finished with 28 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns, consistently got yards after first contact.

"They were just bouncing off the first person like he wasn't even there," Haden said. "It took like two or three of us to take them down every time."

Florida played without starting defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The junior was suspended after a DUI arrest last week. But several Gators said they didn't think having Dunlap would have made a difference.

"Guys go down, guys step up and play at the same level," linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "Dunlap has nothing to do with (it). If we played like we did today with him here, we still would have lost."

Florida Gators defense uncharacteristically falters in SEC Championship Game 12/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 6, 2009 1:27am]
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