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Alabama, Florida ride strong 'D' to SEC title game

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(Associated Press)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Southeastern Conference's two stingiest defenses will take the field in the league championship game.

That's no coincidence.

No. 1 Alabama has kept its end zone off-limits for more than a month and been practically impenetrable to running backs. No. 15 Florida has only given up a few more points per game and baffled opposing quarterbacks.

"It's kind of like a minor league NFL game," Florida quarterback Austin Appleby said. "There's going to be first-rounders and NFL players all over the field. This is what it's all about in the SEC."

Both defenses feature highly rated NFL prospects like the Tide's Jonathan Allen and the Gators' Jalen Tabor, who likely be first round picks next April.

The Tide hasn't allowed a touchdown in 13-plus quarters, dating all the way back to October 22 against Texas A&M.

Florida’s defense has overcome a rash of injuries to rank among the nation's best in pass defense (third), scoring (fifth) and total yards allowed (sixth). They will however get a key starter back in the lineup for Saturday’s game in Atlanta.

Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, the team's defensive leader and second-leading tackler, returned to practice this week after missing three games with ankle injuries. He's a senior and Georgia native who desperately wants to play in the title game. "If you can give the team one play, whatever that play might be, that's what it's all about," McElwain said.

At their best, the Gators allowed 43 rushing yards to South Carolina, 149 total yards to Kentucky and a paltry 53 total yards against North Texas. They also held LSU, which Alabama shut out, to 10 points.

Crimson Tide tide tight end O.J. Howard remembered the challenge of facing Florida in last season's SEC championship, which Alabama won 29-15.

The same offense went on to score 38 points against Michigan in the playoff semifinals and 45 in the title game against Clemson. Howard called the Gators "fast, explosive, very productive."

"Those guys are the best defense we played last year overall, honestly," he said. "I think they've got a couple of guys banged up this season, but that defense is one of the best defenses we will face since LSU."