Three weeks into the 1999 season, Alabama's football program was in disarray. The Tide had just lost to Louisiana Tech and Coach Mike DuBose stood accused of sexual harassment. The proud Tide program looked completely different tonight, using a solid running game and fierce defense to rout fifth-ranked Florida, 34-7, in the Southeastern Conference title game.
No. 7 Alabama led 15-7 in the fourth quarter when it struck for two touchdowns within 18 seconds--Freddie Milons's 77-yard run on a broken play and a 38-yard interception return by 288-pound defensive end Reggie Grimes--to take a 28-7 lead with 11 minutes 36 seconds to play.
The Crimson Tide, with its fifth straight win, is 10-2 and is likely headed to the Orange Bowl to play Michigan on Jan. 1.
Florida (9-3), which was trying to win its sixth SEC title in the 1990s, likely will play Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl. The Gators' offense, usually one of the best in college football, was miserable against Alabama's defense. Florida's quarterbacks were intercepted four times and the Gators were outgained, 462 yards to 114.
"The loss to Louisiana Tech was the turning point," DuBose said. "Because of that game we started improving and with that adversity we came closer together. You can either come together or split up as a team. We came together."
All-SEC running back Shaun Alexander rushed for 97 yards and Milons added 116 on six carries. Place kicker Ryan Pflugner kicked field goals of 29, 48, and 49 yards. The 49-yarder was an SEC championship game record.
Alabama held the ball 40:11 to 19:49 for Florida. The Gators, ranked No. 2 in the country in rush defense, surrendered 300 yards rushing.
"That was a pretty thorough beating they gave us," Florida Coach Steve Spurrier said. "Our offense is about the worst we've ever had at Florida. We're a bad offensive team. . . . Obviously, we've got to try something different for the bowl game. I just don't know what it is yet."
Florida scored with its first possession of the game, but that was the only highlight for the Gators' offense. Struggling at quarterback in the last six games of the regular season with just five touchdown passes, the usually potent Florida offense managed just 70 total yards the first two quarters.
The Gators scored the quickest touchdown in the seven-year history of the SEC championship game (1:40), then gained 32 yards the rest of the half. Bo Carroll returned the opening kickoff 37 yards to the Florida 45. A 15-yard face-mask penalty against Alabama and a 32-yard pass completion moved the ball to the Tide 6.
The Gators scored two plays later on its best pass of the first half--which was thrown by running back Earnest Graham. The freshman lobbed a three-yard pass to the back of the end zone to tight end Erron Kinney for the score and Florida led, 7-0, after the extra point. The rest of the half belonged to Alabama, which had 270 total yards.
Alabama punted with its first possession then moved the ball on five of its next six possessions. Pflugner kicked field goals of 29 and 48 yards to cut the Florida lead to 7-6.
The Tide then got an interception by cornerback Milo Lewis with 1:42 remaining in the first half. Working from the Gators 41, Alabama scored on the fourth play as Andrew Zow threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jason McAddley with 30 seconds left in the first half. The try for two failed and the Tide led 12-7 at intermission.
Spurrier changed quarterbacks to start the third period, inserting senior Doug Johnson for Jesse Palmer. But Johnson, who Spurrier said had an injured shoulder, lasted just one series and was back on the bench. Palmer returned but Florida never could manage a big play and the Gators were overwhelmed in the fourth period.
"I don't have an answer for it," Spurrier said. "Maybe Alabama is just better than us. They ran it down our throats. We couldn't run it. They threw it here and there. We couldn't stop Freddie Milons. They're just better than us, let's put it like that."