Alabama barely beats Florida in SEC Opener


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has settled down. A game much closer than many had anticipated, the Gators fans filled the air with deafening chants as they made one last attempt to get their team past the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This 31-29 defeat of the Gators has confirmed what the Crimson Tide football team already knew, and what their opponents feared: This Alabama program that broke open the state of Ohio just nine months ago has been recharged and has its eyes set on its next one. national title.

But Saturday’s show was far from perfect for the Crimson Tide. They committed 12 penalties for 87 yards. They left their run game in Tuscaloosa, gaining just 91 yards on the ground. They made mistakes on the trajectory that prevented them from retreating from the Gators, such as when receiver Slade Bolden dropped a surefire touchdown in the middle of the end zone in the third quarter.

The Alabama defense, which allowed only 135 yards on the ground against Miami and Mercer, surrendered 258 yards to the Gators, including a 17-yard touchdown run by Dameon Pierce, the running back who entered the end zone almost untouched late in the fourth. waltzed. quarter to bring Florida within two points after completing a comeback.

However, a failed two-point attempt in Florida followed that game, but the Gators stopped two points behind and eventually ruled them out of the area.

What sets Alabama apart from almost every other team in the country is its ability to beat opponents on days off like Saturday.

Not that you would ignore a Nick Saban led team headed for a season – Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top-25 preseason poll – but this isn’t the same team that defeated the Buckeyes in the 2020 College Football Playoff Championship game. Ten of the players qualified for that game now play in the NFL. Normally, teams with that kind of roster turnover will see varying degrees of decline the following season. They certainly wouldn’t be expected to compete in the playoffs.

Last season, LSU hardly looked like the dominant 2019 team that raced through the Southeastern Conference en route to a 15-0 season and a win in the College Football Playoff. It lost 14 players to the NFL a few months later, including quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and receiver Justin Jefferson, stumbling to a 5-5 record in 2020.

Alabama’s ability to produce NFL-ready talent seemingly every season while other teams spend years recruiting and building is what has created a rift between it and many others. And if Saturday’s game was a glimpse of what to expect from the Crimson Tide in conference play, it looks like Saban has once again assembled a team poised to make another College Football Playoff appearance.

“I talked about it when I got here,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said after the game, referring to when he took over the program in 2018. “I want a team that can compete for championships on a consistent basis. And to do that, you have to beat Alabama.”

Throughout his 15-year tenure in Tuscaloosa, Saban and his staff have demonstrated a perpetual ability to recruit and hire talent at a speed seemingly unmatched by even the most successful programs in the country.

Mike Locksley, Maryland’s coach and former offensive coordinator under Saban, said in an interview this year that he believed Alabama’s embrace of a dazzling sky game had helped the program attract a greater number of talented players in the years after stars if Julio Jones had electrified Tuscaloosa. .

“I’d venture to say that if they still turned around and were running 45, 50 times a game, it’s going to be hard to recruit skilled receivers,” he said. “But I think the songs that guys like Julio and Amari Cooper put on and then of course Calvin Ridley put on, it created this mentality that you can go there as a receiver and still hang songs in that style of insult, and it sets you up.” able to recruit more guys with that kind of skill and that kind of skill, which then opens up your attack to be as diverse as they have become.”

The Crimson Tide has never had a losing season under Saban and has avoided a relapse and successfully reloaded their roster every year. Saban’s program has signed the best recruiting class in the country in eight of the last 10 seasons. It placed second in Georgia in 2020 and 2018.

“Obviously, Coach Saban and his staff are the best recruiters, and they also do an excellent job with team attitude,” said Steve Spurrier, who won the Heisman as Florida quarterback in 1966.

Spurrier pointed to the crowd as Florida’s biggest advantage heading into Saturday’s game. Although Saban said after the game that he thought sophomore quarterback Bryce Young managed the game well despite the noise from the crowd, the 90,000 fans at their home stadium, known as the Swamp, certainly made a difference in the game, making Sabans typically disciplined team was forced to commit mistakes.

Saban told reporters that some of the team’s mistakes were the result of snap count issues.

“The center struggled to hear a few times and broke the ball late,” said Saban, later adding: “All in all, I think there is a lot to learn. I hope our team can learn from this experience.”

The Florida defense, which was much reviled in 2020 and in the first two games of the season, forced Young to make some awkward throws, leading to omissions that shook the Florida fans in attendance. But the Florida offense consistently missed opportunities to capitalize on those missteps, and the Alabama offense did just enough to stay ahead.

“Our guys expected to win the game today,” said Mullen, adding: “When you play in championship-level matches, the margin of error becomes extremely small.”

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