ATLANTA—Alabama fans can breathe a little easier.
Look, we all knew the Tide was going to roll over the Florida Gators on Saturday at the SEC Championship, and they did, beating Florida 29-15. Florida had demonstrated no ability to move the football without the assistance of motor vehicles, and whatever mojo had carried the Gators through to an SEC East title appeared to have vanished into the ether three weeks ago.
Even so, Alabama's offensive engine took a half to reach fully operational status, and that had to have the Tide faithful concerned. If Bama can't run it up against Florida, what chance would they have against a beefier Oklahoma/Clemson/Big Ten opponent in the College Football Playoff?
Worry not, Tide Nation. Alabama found its footing and methodically destroyed whatever meager hopes Florida might have had, notching touchdowns both on the ground (Derrick Henry carried the ball 43 times for 187 yards and a touchdown) and through the air (even as Jacob Coker's touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart in triple coverage was more a product of a great catch rather than exceptional process).
Henry also broke Herschel Walker's SEC single-season rushing record Saturday night. It's's an impressive accomplishment, and one that may get him the Heisman Trophy. Walker set the record in 11 games. Henry's done it in 13 and has one, possibly two, games left to go, though he has fewer carries than Walker did in his record-setting season. That follows an Iron Bowl in which Henry bested Bo Jackson's Iron Bowl rushing record. Two weeks, two icons.
"They are like my heroes, my football heroes," Henry said after the game of Jackson and Walker. "Growing up and hearing their name and just watching what they did is incredible. For my name to be mentioned with theirs, it's an honor and a blessing."
As Henry goes, so goes Alabama's offense, a fact head coach Nick Saban alluded to throughout his many postgame press conferences. "I don't know that I've coached many players that actually set a better example to affect other people," Saban said.
After the game, Henry found his father, Derrick Henry Sr., in front of the Alabama band and cheerleaders. He walked up stairs from the Georgia Dome field and sat on the wall next to his father, handing the elder Henry the trophy to hold.
"I'm just so proud of him," Derrick Henry Sr. said afterward amid the crowd of Alabama fans. "He's come so far. He's done so much."
Indeed, Saban had to rein in Henry to keep his prize running back healthy for one, perhaps two more games remaining in the season. "He wasn't happy when I told him he wasn't going to play anymore," Saban said. "But when [Florida] scored, he got to play some more, and he was happy. Then he made me happy by the way he played. So everybody was happy."
Alabama went away happy. But to call Florida's offense laughable would be like trying to find humor in a sewage treatment plant. The Gators wavered between incompetent and unwatchable. The Gators' touchdown came via punt return. Quarterback Treon Harris, who, aside from a 46-yard heave to Antonio Callaway, played quarterback like your dad was controlling him in a video game. The Gators' only saving grace was their defense, which managed to hold Alabama to a field goal and a late touchdown in the first half. (You can't blame the defense for Alabama's first score, a safety.)
Once Alabama claimed the lead late in the second quarter on Henry's touchdown run, the only real drama came from the Dr Pepper throw-a-football-for-$100,000 at halftime. Nathan Garcia won a hefty little check for his tuition by tossing footballs into a giant Dr. Pepper can:
— SEC Sports (@SEC) December 5, 2015
WAIT A SECOND. What kind of throw was that? Let's take a closer look:
Chest pass? CHEST PASS? What kind of form is that? The form that wins you a hundred thousand dollars, of course, but that didn't sit well with some of the Twitter no-fun football police:
I'd rather lose the 100k and throw the ball correctly.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 5, 2015
If I was in the Dr Pepper halftime contest, Id throw the football like a football. I may lose to a chest passer. But Id leave w/ my dignity.
— Sean Kane (@SKaneCSN) December 5, 2015
Nathan left with $100,000, which is a decent price for the dignity of a college student. Florida left with nothing but a memory the entire team would just as soon blot out. The Gators finished the game with 21 carries for 15 yards rushing.
All that remains now for Alabama is to see which opponent it will face in the New Year's Eve playoff. The rest of the SEC lies crumbled in its wake.
And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.