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SEC Championship Notebook

ATLANTA — Alabama’s fake field goal on fourth-and-9 only seemed like a go-for-broke gamble.

It was early in the second quarter, and placekicker Leigh Tiffin was out of the game with a slight concussion. So the top-ranked Crimson Tide sent out freshman backup Corey Smith.

Holder P.J. Fitzgerald took the direct snap and fell well short of a first down in Alabama’s 31-20 loss to No. 2 Florida on Saturday.

That was “probably one of the critical things in the game for us,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. He felt the 49-yard kick was out of Smith’s range, but also said the fake should have been called off.

“They weren’t in the right look for us to run the fake, so we should have kicked the field goal. It was probably the limit of (Smith’s) range, but it was a little bit too close in there to be punting,” Saban said.

The Gators answered with a field goal of their own to tie the game at 10-all.

Tiffin did return to the game and was 2-for-2 in field goals, but other special teams snafus hurt the Tide.

Besides the failed fake, return man Javier Arenas unwisely fielded a kick at the 4 and his momentum carried him out of bounds in the second quarter. Alabama couldn’t move the ball and Florida wound up starting a touchdown drive for the lead from the Tide’s 38-yard line.

“I was mad for about 3.4 seconds then I went back to the sideline and had to get ready for defense,” said Arenas, also a starting cornerback. “It was tough for me to look up and look down and try to locate the ball. I can’t get down and say, ‘Aw, man’ and then go out and get burned on defense.”

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TOUGH AS A GATOR: Florida players heard the comparisons. They knew they were respected for their speed, but Alabama was viewed as the tough team.

Even speedy players are insulted when told they’re not tough. So in the fourth quarter, Florida beat Alabama with its speed — and its grit.

“Our toughness was questioned,” said receiver David Nelson. “Our guys took that to heart and came out and showed it.”

Florida coach Urban Meyer acknowledged he made use of the comparisons to challenge his team.

“We use any form of motivation we can get our hands on, when your toughness is questioned, white collar versus blue collar, old versus new and all this other stuff,” Meyer said. “From day one the foundation of our program is built on toughness, and obviously Alabama is a very tough football team … but I would like to say when people talk about Florida, I know we’re fast and all this other stuff, but we’re very tough.”

Meyer said his team proved its toughness with its two fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Alabama players also were aware of the comparisons.

“They weren’t trying to prove a point,” said Alabama cornerback and return specialist Javier Arenas. “They were playing University of Florida football. As they do that, points are being proven. They say our defense is physical, but we’re not going out there to prove that we’re physical. We’re going out there to play our ball.”

Meanwhile, Alabama safety Rashad Johnson said Florida’s win wasn’t based on its speed.

“We knew speed wasn’t going to beat us,” Johnson said. “It came out to who executed the best, and they capitalized on some mistakes we made.”

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SUGAR BOWL BOUND?: Alabama appears a virtual lock for the Sugar Bowl with the loss.

Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan attended the SEC title game. “Any time that we can have a highly ranked, highly qualified SEC team host our event, that’s the best of all worlds for us,” he said.