ATLANTA — The end of the streak — and quite possibly an era — came suddenly, painfully and in uncharacteristic fashion for Florida.
When everything you've accomplished and everything you still hope to gain comes down to one day, one game, the end can be brutal if you're on the losing end.
Alabama could tell you that last season. Now Florida can do the same.
In a rematch of last year's SEC title game, No. 1 Florida fell apart when it could least afford to and No. 2 Alabama played as well as it has all season.
Alabama accumulated 490 yards against the Gators' top-ranked defense on its way to a 32-13 victory in front of 70,514 in the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
It was the first loss of the season for Florida (12-1) and ended a national-high and school-record 22-game winning streak. It also means the Gators will not return to the BCS title game and their seniors won't get an opportunity to win three titles in four years.
"It is frustrating, obviously," said Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow, who was 20-of-35 for 247 yards and one interception. "This is not how we wanted to finish our season in the SEC, and there were a lot of goals we won't be able to accomplish. It was frustrating. To say it wasn't, it would be a lie. We've still got to regroup and go have a good bowl game, and that's what our focus will be."
Alabama (13-0) will play for a national title in Pasadena next month while Florida will settle for the consolation prize — a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
"We're kind of in a territory we haven't been in awhile," a subdued Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "And we've got to regroup from a loss. You're not going to win every game you play. So we'll find a way. We have a lot of confidence in these players."
When it all settles, what might be most painful for the Gators is the way they lost, most notably an uncharacteristic performance by a defense that dominated opponents all season and an anemic offense that abandoned its running game and could not score in the second half. The Gators entered the game with the nation's No. 6 rushing offense, but their running backs carried the ball a combined four times for 26 yards.
"We had a game plan that we wanted to run, but we just didn't execute," said sophomore Jeff Demps, who had one carry for 9 yards. "That's partly because of what they were doing. But a lot of it was we just didn't execute the way we planned."
Despite being No. 1 nationally in total defense, Florida gave up 490 yards, and Alabama junior quarterback Greg McElroy was 12-of-18 for 239 yards and one touchdown. He was named the game's most valuable player.
Despite being outplayed, the Gators trailed just 19-13 at halftime. But the second half belonged to Alabama, which scored 13 consecutive points.
Overall, Florida had just 88 rushing yards, was 4-of-11 on third downs and scored one touchdown among three trips inside the red zone.
Alabama also had possession of the ball for 39:37 compared with Florida's 20:23.
"They did some great things on defense to keep us off-balance," running back Brandon James said. "We didn't play our best game, but you've got to tip your hat to them. They are a great team."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.
Rolled by the Tide
Saturday's loss, was Florida worst under Urban Meyer since his first (also to Alabama). Meyer's 10 losses at UF:
SaturdayAlabama 32-13 *
Sept. 27, 2008Ole Miss 31-30
Jan. 1, 2008Michigan 41-35 #
Oct. 27, 2007Georgia 42-30
Oct. 6, 2007at LSU 28-24
Sept. 29, 2007Auburn 20-17
Oct. 14, 2006at Auburn 27-17
Nov. 12, 2005at S.C. 30-22
Oct. 15, 2005at LSU 21-17
Oct. 1, 2005at Alabama 31-3
*SEC title game #Capital One Bowl