Alabama crushed Florida, 38-10, on Saturday night. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
It started so well: Florida tapped Alabama's jaw with a one-play touchdown drive that showed off John Brantley's arm and Andre Debose's speed and ignited The Swamp. Then Alabama came back and ground the Gators to a pulp, pulling away despite Brantley's best efforts and one of the more raucous home crowds of my time as a UF student.
I saw one team that can compete for a national championship this year on the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last night. Sadly, our Gators were not that team.
How Florida Lost
The Gators had a 10-10 tie heading into the second quarter, but Brantley's pick-six to Courtney Upshaw, which seemed like a miscommunication in person, gave the Tide their first lead. All hope of a comeback ended after Brantley, in the midst of his finest game as a Gator, was helped off the field with an injury, right leg dangling. Brantley's version of the Florida passing game was the only thing producing yardage for the Gators, and without him, the Florida offense was almost silent in the second half.
Debose's speed makes him a potential star, and beating Alabama deep on the first play of the game — especially considering that Florida has gone deep on the first series more than once this season, giving the Tide reason to prepare for it — was his best play as a Gator. Maybe Brantley's, too: He only had eyes for Debose on the play, but delivered a throw that his wideout could catch in stride and turn into a touchdown. Charlie Weis' kitchen sink had a couple of valuable things in it, it seems.
The defense could have folded in the second half, down by two touchdowns with an offense that might have struggled to get a first down against the Florida Flop. But it didn't, at least not in the third quarter, and the three consecutive three-and-outs forced by that defense may be the most anyone will string together against Alabama over the Tide's SEC schedule.
I strongly suspect that John Brantley's Florida career is done. I am not a doctor, and I have heard no definitive word on Brantley's injury, but the way he crumpled after the hit that injured him and the way his leg dangled as he walked off the field make me think he's got a serious leg injury that could take months to heal. If his collegiate career is done, though, he did his finest work in his final hour: Brantley threw for 190 yards and completed 11 of 19 passes for the aforementioned touchdown and interception, but only really missed badly on the interception, made a number of difficult throws, and generally directed a passing attack that had Alabama on its heels for much of the first half despite vaporous contributions from the running game. I've never been as negative on Brantley as many Florida fans and observers are, and last night's meritorious service validated some of that faith.
Weis had the perfect play called for the first play of this game, and got much more yardage than I thought possible while playing one-dimensional football in the first half. Those achievements were offset by some errors, but Weis made one heck of a chicken salad with the personnel he had.
The crowd will come in its rightful lumps later in this recap, but holy wow, was The Swamp loud in the first three quarters of that game. Florida's still got one hell of a big-game fan base, and I've never heard The Swamp that full of noise, ever; I don't know what ear-splitting means to you, but I can tell you that my left ear literally popped three times over the course of the game, and that I was thoroughly impressed by the heart of a fan base that has been ripped more than a few times this year for being less than fully committed — through the first three quarters, at least. This is the first Florida football loss I've personally attended, but I was more or less impressed with how the Gators fans in The Swamp handled getting manhandled.
Jeff Driskel isn't trusted to throw yet, in large part because he hasn't earned it: He missed a wide open receiver in the second half, looked to run as soon as possible, and generally seemed like Tim Tebow in all the wrong ways in the pocket. But that antsy, impetuous style works well for players built like the ceratorhine Tebow, and Driskel's weaving 31-yard run was, as I told one of my friends, his first "Tebow moment" as a Gator. The road is long for Driskel, and starting his first game as a true freshman against maybe LSU's best defense ever in Baton Rouge is going to make it seem much, much longer, but there is no denying that Florida has a quarterback with the profile of a superstar.
You know how we were all worried about Florida's secondary entering this season? It turns out that these kids are better at coverage than we expected: A.J. McCarron, who was rarely hurried, also struggled to find open receivers, and completed 12 of 25 passes for 140 yards. None of those completions were for more than 22 yards. For Florida's defense to be absolutely gutted by the run and still manage that sort of pass defense is almost amazing.
Jeff Demps is a really good kick returner, and I can't believe I didn't realize it before now. And so the deployment of Solomon Patton, who lacks Demps' or Debose's speed, is going to drive me absolutely batty. There's a reason Alabama kicked it to him repeatedly.
Florida's offensive line kept Brantley upright for much of the first half, then allowed two sacks that knocked Florida out of range for a touchdown, then out of range for a field goal — oh, and the second one may have ended Brantley's college career. Then it followed up that decay with a worse second half, leaving Driskel to display his mobility by permitting pressure on almost every passing down. And this was the better half of the offensive line's performance.
Weis smartly relied on Brantley's arm for much of the first half, but he may not have used it enough: Florida was getting absolutely nothing on the ground, no matter where it probed, and not because Demps and Chris Rainey lack speed or fortitude. And that insistence on trying a running game wasted downs that could have been used to shorten third down distances. It's what every NCAA 12 player knows as a bitter truth: If your running game is bad and you're behind, running a variation on Four Verticals is sometimes a viable strategy. Weis doesn't quite have the personnel to do that, and it's a difficult thing to do against Alabama, but sticking with the run for as long as he did wasn't a better idea. Particularly egregious: Weis' flat passing game made a lot of things happen in Florida's first four games. Why not try some of that against Alabama instead of attempting sweeps around a defense with speed to burn?
Jon Bostic all but conceded a touchdown with his personal foul penalty. He may have had a legitimate gripe, but a loss of composure like that isn't wise, and it threw off Florida's defense to such a degree that Matt Elam was literally hopping up and down before the next play, howling either at the injustice or at his compatriots. And then Alabama scored on the next play, putting the Gators in a 14-point hole they had no real shot of escaping from.
Caleb Sturgis' miss from 52 yards was more painful than it probably seemed. With that field goal, Florida has a reason to gamble in the second half and potentially tie Alabama with a fluky touchdown (and a two-point conversion) and a field goal; without it, the Gators faced a two-touchdown deficit that may as well have been an eight-touchdown deficit.
Florida's crowd began filing out at 31-10 down with over 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That's understandable — I would put the chances of a 21-point comeback against Alabama's defense with a freshman at quarterback at HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA NO — but it's not ideal, and it's the sort of thing that gives those who like to tell other people what they should or should not do with their time or money a chance to deliver high-handed monologues or take snarky shots on the Internet. I stayed the entire game, and, barring some unforeseen emergency, I'm going to do that for every Gators sporting event I attend for the rest of my life. But though I invite anyone in the Florida fan base to do that (it's fun, trust me!), I'm not holding that up as anything other than my personal choice
I have no clue why Florida didn't bring Rainey and attempt a punt block after the Gators flipped the field on Alabama in the third quarter and stoned them near the end zone. The chances of Florida making a touchdown or safety happen with a punt block > the chances of a return that made a touchdown plausible + the drive to do it.
Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond combined for one catch for nine yards. They still got listed as probable starters on the GatorVision boards, though.
The offensive line's lack of success in the running game was a massive disappointment. I thought that line did much more for Rainey and Demps than it was given credit for in Florida's first four games, but I can't fault Rainey and Demps for much of anything that happened last night. The line just got dominated by a defense that set out to destroy its running game and did what it wanted to do, and one of the worst things one can say about a line is that it allowed its opponent to do what it wanted.
And the Florida front seven did almost the exact same thing against Alabama's rushing attack: With the exception of a couple stretches of firmness, Alabama found little resistance up front from those Gators, and Trent Richardson was able to bludgeon Florida time and again with one-cut runs for six, eight, nine yards. Winning first down? These Gators were lucky to win any of them. (Note: I really regret writing "Will" in that headline.)
It was hard to tell from field level, and I stopped watching the replays after a certain point, but Twitter chatter indicated that the Florida secondary was a veritable carousel of poor angles, especially on the long touchdown runs by Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Is this true?
Stats and Miscellany Dump
I'm turning this into a separate post to follow the Rapid Recap, beginning this week.
Previously in Rapid Recaps: Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee, and Kentucky.