It was perhaps the most deceptive and lopsided tied game ever.
Early in the third quarter, Alabama and Florida were knotted at 21 with the Crimson Tide offense flourishing for 404 yards while the Gators only gained 120.
Then the Earth’s axis corrected itself and the Tide rolled.
No. 3 Alabama ran roughshod over Florida’s once mighty defense, walloping the unranked Gators 42-21 on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
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The Tide overcame a comedy of errors — four turnovers, 11 penalties, poor special teams play — to deliver one of the worst losses in school history for Gators coach Will Muschamp, setting his already-hot seat ablaze.
“We had our chances and didn’t capitalize,” Muschamp said.
“That’s the frustrating thing. … We’ve got a lot of football to play and everything is sitting in our hands we have to go take care of them.”
Behind senior quarterback Blake Sims, Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) racked up 645 yards — the most yards yielded ever in Florida history. The 42 points allowed were also the most in Muschamp’s four years at UF.
Alabama coughed up the ball three times in first half, leading to 14 points for Florida in an action-packed first period.
Gators sophomore safety Keanu Neal scooped up Alabama’s second fumble and took it to the house for a 49-yard score, giving the Gators a 14-7 lead.
Florida’s hopes for an upset didn’t last much longer.
Alabama couldn’t get out of its own way in the first half, but Florida failed to take advantage of all the miscues (three turnovers, missed field goal, shanked punt). The Gators had the ball inside the Tide’s territory three times in the second quarter, and didn’t score a single point.
“We had our opportunities, regardless what the stats were in the game. We just didn’t take advantage of them,” Muschamp said. “Didn’t do it. We needed to capitalize on those situations.”
Instead, Alabama stopped self-destructing and the scoreboard fireworks ensued.
Alabama ran 28 plays in the third quarter (including a 16-play drive), as Sims made mincemeat of UF’s woeful secondary (445 yards and four touchdowns for the game).
New Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin dialed up the perfect play seemingly every time — especially on third down (12-of-16).
“That’s where you’ve got to bear down and get a stop,” Muschamp said. “We had our opportunities on third down and we didn’t do them. Offensively, you can’t go three-and-out after a 16-play drive.”
Sims had 335 passing yards by halftime, with two long touchdowns (87 yards, 79 yards) in the first quarter. Alabama wideout Amari Cooper was unstoppable, torching All-American Vernon Hargreaves and the Gators defense for 10 catches, 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Then Florida got gassed, and Alabama’s relentless rushing attack got going.
Talented tailbacks Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon combined for 175 yards and a score, as the Gators whiffed on at least a dozen tackles in the second half alone.
It was a brutal showing, and Florida’s toothless offense wasn’t any better.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful, finishing with just 93 yards (9-of-28) in the air and two interceptions. The junior chipped in two scores (a 28-yard pass to Valdez Showers and a 14-yard option keeper), but otherwise his inconsistencies left fans clamoring for former Booker T. Washington star Treon Harris — UF’s freshman backup quarterback.
“I did [consider replacing Driskel], but Jeff gives us the best opportunity to right now. For us to win a football game like that Jeff Driskel needs to play,” Muschamp said.
But Driskel didn’t play well, and Florida’s no-huddle attack never got going. The unit was awful on third down (2-of-13), gained just 200 yards on the day (3.6 yards per play), had three turnovers and missed at least four open shots downfield.
“That’s a good team,” Driskel said. “We didn’t make the plays when they were there and they did. It’s a matter of execution and we just didn’t get it done.”