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Alabama 29, Florida 15: Gators beaten, not broken

The Gators lost on this Saturday in Atlanta. They might be back for more.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Florida got beaten in Atlanta on Saturday night, falling 29-15 to a damn good Alabama team that smothered it on defense and outfought it on offense. It got beaten badly, arguably, scoring its only touchdowns on a punt return and the flukiest touchdown from an offense that seems reduced to prayers, flukes, and miracles.

But I'm reminded of a certain slogan from years past — because Florida never broke.

Vernon Hargreaves III and Demarcus Robinson were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, of course, and Jarrad Davis got flagged for roughing the passer and escaped another for throwing down Derrick Henry. Those are the examples to counter the thesis.

But Florida also scored the last points of this game, on a pass that Treon Harris threw after absorbing and surviving dozens of hits from Alabama's ravenous defense. Florida's defense yielded 189 rushing yards to Henry — assuredly this season's Heisman Trophy winner — but only did so on a massive 44 carries. Antonio Callaway did a wonderful thing, because that's what he does.

Florida played hard for 60 minutes of game clock that took nearly four hours of real time to transpire, and while the Gators got burned by big plays in the passing game at critical moments — again; frustratingly — their defense didn't give in as it appeared to last Saturday against Florida State. (Henry's longest run covered 21 yards; amazingly, Harris had a 23-yard scamper that was the game's biggest play on the ground.) That defense didn't allow a touchdown until the second quarter, and didn't allow more than one in any quarter.

The offense? It outscored Alabama in the fourth period. Somehow.

This could have been a bloodbath; instead, Florida covered a 17-point spread despite getting exactly as many turnovers as Alabama did. This could have been a loss that reinforced national perceptions of the Gators as a laughingstock; instead, it really just showed that Florida needs a quarterback better than Harris desperately.

Florida wasn't going to win this game, and despite taking the lead on Callaway's punt return, it didn't. That was expected, understandable, explicable.

What Florida did to get here, and how far along the curve to perennial contention for SEC and national titles it seems to be, one year after firing a coach? Unexpected, beyond understanding, and largely inexplicable.

Florida got beaten again on Saturday. It lost a second consecutive game for the first time under Jim McElwain, after losing at least two consecutive games in four of the last five seasons, a "down" half-decade in which Florida hadn't been to Atlanta.

But Florida didn't look broken. Maybe it never was.