Cracks are beginning to show for Alabama as Florida pushes Crimson Tide to the limit, again


No. 1 Alabama won again, and already, this sentence might need a correction. By the time the new college football rankings come out Sunday, No. 1 Alabama could be No. 2 Alabama. If that’s as bad as it gets for the Crimson Tide, it will be lesson learned Saturday in The Swamp.

There was too much to ignore at this way-too-early point in the season to be more than concerned. There was a moment during Alabama’s 31-29 win over No. 11 Florida when the Gators were physically dominating the Tide, pushing them around, at least on offense. Actually, it was more just a little. Florida played bully ball pretty much the entire second half.

When’s the last time you saw that?

If your answer is nine months ago, give yourself a cookie. There was some of that push back in last year’s SEC Championship Game ultimately won by Bama, 52-46 over Florida. In fact, the Gators are the only team over the last one-and-a-quarter seasons to get within 15 points of the Tide … and they’ve done it twice. With two disparate offenses — two different teams, perhaps — Florida has played Alabama to its knees.

Alabama has changed, too, and there seems to be some vulnerability after Saturday’s performance. Tide coach Nick Saban blamed a loud atmosphere in The Swamp for having to go to a silent count. That doesn’t explain Florida rolling for 156 yards rushing in the second half, outgaining Alabama 258-91 on the ground for the game and 439-324 overall.

It may not mean anything. It may mean this season may hold some variety. This one was for all those who have been put to sleep by the same old names doing the same old things. This one is for all those who have grown weary of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act on a weekly basis. You know, exercising a monopoly over the game.

Those three schools have accounted for 16 of the 28 berths in the College Football Playoff era. So far this season, there’s a lot of OK teams. No great ones.

Georgia won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown. Clemson can’t run the ball and just struggled to beat Georgia Tech — in Death Valley. The Tigers have scored two touchdowns in eight quarters against Power FIve opponents. Last week, Ohio State got pushed around on its home field the same way Alabama was pushed around on the road Saturday.

This was evidence that even Bama may have come back to earth a bit after losing six first-round draft choices and every national award winner you can name. The Tide still won for the 22nd consecutive time, making it 32 in a row against SEC East opponents. They’ve also won eight straight over the Gators dating back to the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

Florida still has some sort of secret sauce it can throw at Alabama.

“One thing: Some teams play Alabama and don’t think they’re going to win the game, maybe?” suggested Florida coach Dan Mullen, who is now 0-11 against Saban in his career at UF and Mississippi State. “Our guys certainly expected to win the game. They played that way. They did last year; they did this year.”

This was different because it was a completely different game after Alabama scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. After that, Florida … won. Not the game, of course, but the battle.

The Gators outscored the Tide 26-10 the rest of the way. They were the tougher team. They were the more innovative team. They were the stronger team. The ran the damn ball, and for a while, there wasn’t a damn thing the Tide could do about it.

Swallow hard and admit that even Saban got outcoached.

“I think we got tired,” the great coach said.

He’s right. It was mid-September hot at The Swamp. Everybody was tired. But the Gators had the resolve and almost the game. Florida put up 439 yards, 239 of them in the second half.  The nation’s No. 1 rushing team rumbled for 258 yards against what some have called Saban’s best defense in 10 years. Florida did it without their new, best secret weapon, Anthony Richardson; the redshirt freshman quarterback on the bench nursing a hamstring.

It all came down to a zone-read run for the tying two-pointer that was stopped with 3:10 left in the game. Florida had just scored a 17-yard touchdown on the back of Dameon Pierce and was forced to go for two after missing an extra point earlier in the game.

Jones, not exactly known as an elite passer, threw for a career-high 181 yards and an interception; he ran for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama has scored in 35 of its last 37 quarters. Florida is responsible for holding Bama scoreless in the other two.

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

Roll that one around for a second. Alabama? Problems with intensity?

There are no moral victories, of course, but this one came close to qualifying. If Jones keeps this up, Florida just might field a two-headed threat at quarterback. Richardson has proven to be that good.

Florida has played Alabama tight nine months apart. After Saturday, it’s already looking ahead to three months from now. That would be a rematch in the SEC Championship Game.

“No. 1 team in the country, we were two points short today, so we’re getting there,” Mullen said. “I think we’re at a point where we can compete. We’ve got to get to the point right now where we can win.”

“To honest,” Mullen added. “I hope we play them really soon later in the season.”





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