The talk all week in the college football world was that Dan Mullen is in the very small circle of coaches that can give Nick Saban a run for his money head-to-head. This again proved to be true in The Swamp on Saturday as Mullen’s Florida Gators almost became the first SEC East team to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide since 2010. This 31-29 classic is the latest in this series that has been wildly entertaining over the years.
Alabama wasted no time flexing their muscles early in this one. They scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the game behind a slick passing attack. These three TDs were all passes. The Tide looked comfortable as the first quarter ended 21-3.
The teams played hot potato with the ball for the rest of the half aside for a Florida touchdown with 6:34 left in the second. This scoring drive for the Gators contained two explosive plays, a 30-yard pass from Emory Jones to Keon Zipperer, and was capped off by a 26 yard TD run from Malik Davis. After the extra point was missed, the score stood at 21-9, Bama.
In the first half, Florida showed very promising signs in the run game and then the signs turned into full-on promise in the second half. Coming out of the locker room, the Gators started to mash the gas and ran the damn ball. They pulled within five on this first drive to make the score 21-16. Bama answered immediately with a TD drive that was extended by a defensive pass interference call on Florida. This was probably the most crucial score for the Tide as it guaranteed that the Gators would have to chase for the remainder of the game. Brian Robinson rushed it in to put Bama up 28-16 with 4:33 left in the third.
The following drive will probably have Gator fans wondering why Nay’Quan Wright didn’t get the ball more. Florida drove 99 yards in 11 plays to make it 28-23, but Wright accounted for 71 total yards on this drive. He was the ultimate fresh legs boost.
After Bama had to settle for a field goal with 9:24 left in the game to increase their lead to 31-23, the Gators were driving with a chance to tie. The Gators got the TD, but failed on the two-point conversion and had to give the ball back to the Tide with 3:10 remaining. Bama was able to run most of the clock out before punting. Florida had four seconds for a miracle, but couldn’t get a pass off.
Both squads will have a lot to digest in this one. MVPs are the running game for Florida and Bryce Young/the first half for Alabama. Young was just poised enough in the raucous environment of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to get the job done, but his team was on their heels for pretty much the entire second half. Not only did Florida bully Alabama on the ground at times for 240 yards, they actually bottled the Tide up on the other side of the ball and held them to 91 rushing yards. This was only the second time since 2014 that Bama was held under 100 rushing yards in a game. The Tide offensive line has more questions than usual.
It sort of felt like Florida just ran out of time and they’ll be encouraged by the performance going forward. The Cocktail Party will be must-see TV once again. As for Bama, Nick Saban was visibly happy after the game to survive, but you better believe he’ll be salty in practice this week with the defense. Unfortunately for Southern Miss, they have to be the sacrificial lamb against a Tide team next week with still more to prove. Florida, who shouldn’t fall too far from #11 in the AP poll, has their traditional September tilt with the Tennessee Volunteers as their next game.