Brushing off four lost fumbles and a tie score early in the second half, the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 SEC) lived up to their national ranking with a 42-21 thrashing of the visiting Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday afternoon.
The Crimson Tide scored 21 unanswered points to end the contest, converting seven-straight third downs in the second half (two for touchdowns) and overpowering a Gators defense that could not get itself off the field.
UA racked up 645 yards of total offense in the contest, the most given up by a UF team in a single game in school history, and 449 passing yards, second-most allowed by the Gators in one contest.
With the loss, Florida head coach Will Muschamp fell to 4-13 against ranked opponents as the Gators lost their fourth-straight game to the Crimson Tide dating back to 2008.
Alabama quarterback Blake Simms set career-highs with 445 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing (one interception), while Florida redshirt junior QB Jeff Driskel was a severely underwhelming 9-of-28 for 93 yards with one touchdown and two picks.
The Gators forced four turnovers (three fumbles) on the afternoon and scored 21 points off those Tide miscues. Driskel’s two picks – and an exchange fumble from UF junior running back Matt Jones – gave the home team plenty of opportunities to get back in the game.
Alabama attacked Florida right out of the gate, responding to a Gators three-and-out with a one-play, 87-yard drive via a touchdown pass from Sims to Kenyan Blake.
UF failed to answer its hosts on the next series but got some help from its defense with redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye forcing a fumble and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III picking it up. Facing a 3rd and 7 from the Crimson Tide 28, Driskel hit redshirt junior wide receiver Valdez Showers for a touchdown – the Gators’ first in Tuscaloosa since 1998 – to tie the game 7-7 early in the first quarter.
Defense came up big again for Florida on the ensuing possession when sophomore safety Keanu Neal, with help from redshirt senior linebacker Neiron Ball, forced and recovered a fumble, returning it 49 yards for the first touchdown of his career.
The Gators would not hold on to their 14-7 lead for long, however, as a miscommunication on the back end (attributed to junior DB Brian Poole) led to Sims hooking up with WR Amari Cooper for a 79-yard touchdown that evened the contest at 14-14 with 4:12 remaining in the opening quarter.
Driskel was intercepted on 3rd and 13 before the end of the quarter, but Florida’s defense once again mitigated the offense’s ineptitude when redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr forced a fumble that was picked up by junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who fumbled and recovered the ball again on his own.
UF took over at the Alabama 35 but was unable to take advantage of the opportunity, and the Gators’ offense faltered a few series later when Jones fumbled a handoff from Driskel. Luckily for Florida, Alabama was unable to take advantage of that miscue either.
It did not take long for the game’s sixth turnover to occur as Ball deflected a Sims pass, which was grabbed out of the air by Gators junior LB Antonio Morrison on the first drive of the second half. Two plays later, Driskel crossed the goal line on a 14-yard quarterback keeper that knotted the score at 21.
The Crimson Tide responded by going to the ground, running the ball 11 times on a 16-play, 66-yard scoring drive that took 7:15 off the clock. Alabama converted five third downs on the drive with RB Derrick Henry erasing a 3rd and 23 with a 29-yard gain on a screen pass; he rumbled into the end zone one play later to put UA up 28-21 with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter, finishing with 140 yards on 21 touches.
A three-and-out for Florida gave the ball right back to Alabama, which traveled 80 yards on eight plays in 3:07 to take a 35-21 lead. Sims left the game with a shoulder injury – he would later return – but the Crimson Tide did not slow down one bit. Alabama converted two more third downs; the second was Cooper leaping over Hargreaves to haul in a four-yard touchdown on a fade route.
Driskel’s second interception – a throw into double coverage – ended the game for the Gators early in the fourth quarter as the Tide simply trucked 60 yards down the field on eight plays with Cooper catching his second fade touchdown in as many possessions. He finished with 10 receptions for 201 yards to go along with his three scores.
The off week comes at a much-needed time for a Florida team that will need to regroup before it continues its season at Tennessee in two weeks.