- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Jim McElwain can’t wait to get back to recruiting, and the Southeastern Conference championship game highlighted areas he needs to find help for his Florida team.

Florida was held to 15 yards rushing, and two early special teams breakdowns also put pressure on the defense as the No. 18 Gators were overwhelmed by Derrick Henry and No. 2 Alabama 29-15 on Saturday.

Florida (10-3) can still look forward to a bowl bid on Sunday, possibly to the Citrus, but McElwain already had his eye on what he said will be a bright future with more chances for the Gators to compete for a SEC championship.

But first comes recruiting.

“Shoot guys, they won the line of scrimmage,” said McElwain of Alabama (12-1, No. 2 CFP). “That’s what big, strong highly recruited guys do. That’s why we’re getting on the road as soon as we leave right now.”

The Gators managed only 3 yards of offense in the second and third quarters.

In addition to more big, strong linemen, the first-year coach will also be looking for special teams help. Kicker Austin Hardin’s season of frustrations continued as he had a 40-yard field goal attempt blocked at the line. The Crimson Tide also blocked Johnny Townsend’s punt through the back of the end zone for a safety in the first quarter.

“We’ll get working on this kicking thing, and somebody will get it over the line far enough that maybe somebody doesn’t block it with their armpit,” McElwain said.

The Gators were a combined 0 for 12 on third and fourth down conversions and were held to 180 total yards.

Florida’s defense tried to carry the team as the Gators trailed only 12-7 at halftime, but Henry was relentless as he ran for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries. Alabama quarterback Jake Coker threw touchdown passes to ArDarius Stewart and C.J. Worton in the second half.

McElwain said his defense “battled their tails off.”

The Florida defense earned Henry’s respect.

“I think it’s the best defense we faced,” Henry said. “They’re very physical, very disruptive, very fast on the defensive line. They have athletic linebackers who are very physical and try to knock you out and a good secondary.”

Linebacker Antonio Morrison said the defense is accustomed to carrying a big load.

“We’re used to that, man,” Morrison said. “… We’ve just got to make plays, got to make stops. We can’t worry about what we can’t control. We can’t control what the offense does. We can’t control special teams.

“It’s hard to not point the finger, and that’s what I try not to do. I don’t point the finger. … To be honest, we had some of that on this team. That’s why you see us so hot on defense when they were scoring against us at the end.”

Henry, named the game’s MVP, solidified his status as a Heisman favorite. He put Alabama ahead to stay on a 2-yard run late in the first half.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said he told Henry his game was over in the fourth quarter, but the big running back returned to the field after Florida scored its only offensive touchdown on a 46-yard pass from Treon Harris to C.J. Worton.

Henry tied the SEC record for touchdowns in a season (23). He topped Herschel Walker’s 34-year-old SEC record for yards rushing in a season as he pushed his total to 1,986.

Harris completed only 9 of 24 yards for 165 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked five times. Kelvin Taylor had seven carries for eight yards.

McElwain tried to keep the focus on the future. He said no one expected the Gators to win the SEC East this season but his players “never backed down.”

“We’re a program on the rise,” he said. “We’re a program on the build. These seniors and guys that are going to come out early built a great foundation for the future, and I’m proud of them.”

Alabama will move on to the College Football Playoff following its second straight SEC championship. The Crimson Tide has won six SEC championship games, matching Florida for top honors.

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AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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