In what was supposed to be a showcase of two of the best defenses in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide steamrolled the Florida Gators 38-10 on Saturday night in Gainesville. Trent Richardson racked up 181 rushing yards and scored twice, and Courtney Upshaw returned an intercepted John Brantley pass 45 yards for a touchdown as the Tide dealt the Gators a crushing defeat, especially on a day when the SEC East was right there for the taking.
Even bigger than the story that the Gators could have grabbed an early foothold in the race for the SEC East crown was the fact that they may be without their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Brantley got his shoe caught in the turf in the second quarter, and he sat out the rest of the game while backup freshman QB Jeff Driskel tried his darndest to keep the Gators in the game. The potent Alabama pass rush and grinding offense were simply too much for Florida to overcome, and they fell to 2-1 in the SEC this season with the loss.
Early in the game, it appeared as though the 2nd largest crowd in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium history (90,888) was going to have plenty to cheer about. After a spate of four penalties in the two kickoffs (a personal foul and offsides penalty offset on the first one, and then an illegal procedure on the second, followed by a false start before the first offensive play), Brantley connected with Andre DeBose on a 65-yard strike to give Florida the early lead. They held onto that lead until Richardson scored with 52 seconds left in the first quarter, and when Alabama scored a touchdown courtesy of Upshaw’s interception, the Tide never looked back.
The biggest story coming out of the Alabama side of the field was the dominant performance by their offense. Yes, the defense stifled Florida’s offense to a great degree, but it was the offense that really stole the show. They kept the Florida defense on the field for long stretches of time, and they abused their front seven with the hard running style of Richardson. In the end, the Tide had the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer than the Gators did, and it was all thanks to their clock-draining rushing attack (which racked up 226 yards in the game) and their ability to get first downs (they got 21).
Focusing on Richardson, he certainly made a case to launch himself back into the Heisman debate with his performance in the Swamp. His 6.2 yards per carry doesn’t quite capture just how dominant he was against a stout defense, but the game video speaks for itself. His legs were constantly churning, and while he is known as more of a power runner with the ability to grind out yards even with defenders hanging off of him, he showed off some good lateral quickness in this one as well.
In the fourth quarter, when Alabama was kind of treading water because of the lack of fight that the Gators were showing, Richardson busted a run that will certainly be on his highlight reel should he be a candidate for post-season awards. He took the ball on a delayed counter play, and after the defense opened up a decent hole for him, he burst up the middle for what was already going to be a big gain. Then, a Florida safety came in to try to cut him off, and Richardson put a nice move on him and waltzed into the end zone for an easy 36 yard score. It was the type of play where lots of things have to go right for it to work, but Richardson made sure to perform his duties flawlessly on that play.
Another great aspect of the Tide’s offensive performance was how well they protected quarterback AJ McCarron. He was not sacked a single time in the game, and although he only threw for 140 yards in the game, he still had plenty of time to make reads on those plays. The Florida secondary made a valiant effort and certainly complicated things for him, but he had the opportunity to make plays happen.
Not to be outdone, the Alabama defense turned in a great performance as well. A game after rushing for 405 yards against Kentucky, the Gators could only muster 15 yards on the ground in this one. Granted, they were without Jeff Demps (who left in the first quarter after being tackled awkwardly by Alabama’s kicker on a kick-off) for most of the game, but even still, they had negative-15 yards rushing at the half in this one. Brantley did play extremely well initially, but Alabama quickly sniffed out the Gators’ game plan, and their success stopped relatively early.
Overall, the Tide only allowed Florida 222 yards of offense, nearly 300 fewer than they had gotten last week against the Wildcats. They also forced two turnovers, and scored their eighth defensive/special teams touchdown in their past 17 games.
It may have been a banner night for the Tide in Gainesville, but Florida finds themselves on the complete opposite end of that spectrum. They now have an injured quarterback and banged up top wide receiver/kick returner, and they now have to travel to Death Valley next week for a date with the #1 ranked LSU Tigers. Then to make matters worse, they have to travel to Auburn to play the Tigers the week after that, and all they did this week was knock off the #10 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia. If Brantley or Demps is going to miss any amount of time, they might as well chalk those games up in the loss column considering how bad they looked offensively against Alabama.
The Gators will also have to improve their third down efficiency greatly if they are going to have any chance of knocking off the Bayou Bengals next week. They were only 4-of-14 in that category on Saturday, and that obviously will not get the job done against a team who has knocked off three ranked opponents on the road this season.
To top it all off, the Gators need to make more defensive stops when they get the opportunity. Alabama converted 7-of-13 of their third downs in this game, and while that isn’t inordinately high, it was exacerbated by the fact that every conversion gave the Tide more opportunities to pound the ball with Richardson and Eddie Lacy, and that wore the Gator defense out quickly. They need to try to get the offense on the field way more often than they did on Saturday if they are going to nail down the East Division’s berth in the SEC title game later in the fall.
For now, the Gators will be off to lick their wounds before a daunting date with LSU, and the Tide will roll into an easier chunk of their schedule, in which they will face three consecutive non-ranked opponents in Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. This game was going to be their last big test before the titanic showdown with LSU in Tuscaloosa on November 5th, and they passed the test with flying colors.
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