Alabama escapes the Gators’ jaws in Gainesville

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

It’s not easy to wrangle gators, but someone had to do it.

Alabama football defeated the No. 11 Florida Gators, 31-29, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. 

Slightly Off Balance

Despite some uncharacteristic mistakes by the Crimson Tide, Alabama marched to a 3-0 record. Quarterback Bryce Young reminded people why fans wanted him to start over former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. 

For the first quarter of Saturday’s game, it seemed like Alabama would run away with the victory. Alabama had 172 yards, and Young threw three touchdowns in the first quarter. Alabama led 21-3 at the end of the first fifteen minutes. 

Then, the tide changed. 

After scoring on its first three possessions, the Crimson Tide’s offense stalled. The next three drives for Alabama resulted in punts. Florida cut Alabama’s lead down to 12 and held Alabama to 3 yards in the second quarter. The Gators gained 112 yards in the second quarter. 

Florida’s offensive resurgence was led by quarterback Emory Jones and running back Malik Davis. Jones completed 62.9% of his passes for 181 yards and an interception. He ran for one touchdown. Davis rushed for 96 of the Gators’ 258 rushing yards and ran for one touchdown. 

Florida attacked the weak middle of the Alabama defense like Miami and Mercer did in recent weeks. Miami and Mercer had 87 and 48 rushing yards, respectively. 

The defense gave up crucial third-down plays. Pass interference penalties — like cornerback Josh Jobe’s, which set up Florida’s first touchdown of the game — also kept the defense on the field. 

Miscues on the offensive side of the ball, like not hearing the snap count and mistiming throws, kept the offense from maintaining its rhythm from the first quarter. 

Still, Alabama showed resilience throughout the last 45 minutes of the game. The Crimson Tide managed a victory, but head coach Nick Saban had concerns. 

“What concerns me most is that we could not sustain our intensity, especially on defense,” Saban said. 

The team and the fans are still looking for that first full 60-minute effort from the Crimson Tide, but the team is going to enjoy this tough win for now. 

“It was an outstanding win for our team,” Saban said. 

The Outside Noise

Prior to Saturday, it had been a decade since the top-ranked team in the country came to the Swamp. Florida head coach Dan Mullen was looking for his first-ever victory over Nick Saban while two young quarterbacks made their first starts in a high-pressure matchup. 

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was rocking. 

More than 90,000 fans packed into the Swamp on Saturday. When Florida cut into Alabama’s 18-point halftime lead in the 2020 SEC Championship, there was no crowd to spur the Gators on. 

Now, Florida had over 90,000 fans cheering them on — the fifth-highest attendance level in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s history. 

Alabama took the crowd out of the game early in the first quarter. An opening drive touchdown pass from Young to running back Jase McClellan effectively hushed the energetic Florida crowd.

Then the Crimson Tide tacked on two more. The cheers turned into boos. Then the Florida defense locked in. 

The Florida defense fell into the rhythm of Alabama’s offense. The Gators’ secondary, a unit that was criticized coming into Saturday’s matchup, broke up passes and caused Young to make some plays with his legs. 

When the crowd saw the Gators’ fighting spirit, they did all they could to help Florida overcome the Crimson Tide — and it almost worked. 

The noise from the crowd forced Alabama to move to a silent count. Alabama center Darrian Dalcourt struggled throughout the game hearing Young call for the snap. The noise from the crowd caused several false start penalties. Alabama’s inability to silence Florida fans kept the game close until the end.

“The crowd was a key component,” defensive back Jordan Battle said. 

A tough win like this can give the Crimson Tide confidence heading into the game against Southern Miss on Sept. 25. 

“I’m hopeful that this team can learn from this experience,” Saban said after the game. “Learn how to improve, learn how to get better.”