Alabama at Florida
Florida is extremely talented. It's loaded with five-star talents and future NFL millionaires, and it was shut down cold by a superior defense.
No, Florida isn't as bad is it was last year; Alabama is better than it was in 2010.
Losing John Brantley was a killer for the Gator attack – he was 11-of-16 for 190 yards and a touchdown with a pick before getting knocked out for the game – but he doesn't play defense. Blowing past the Arkansas defensive front was one thing, but Alabama's offensive line took its game to another level by blowing the nation's No. 5 run defense off the ball for a full sixty minutes with Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy each averaging over six yards per pop.
AJ McCarron didn't do much completing just 12-of-25 passes for 140 yards, but all he had to do was hand the ball off and let good things happen. Florida's defense needed to pick up the slack with Brantley out, and it didn't. The Gator offensive line also needed to step up its game, but instead, the offense ran for just 15 yards on 29 carries with the Tide defense teeing off on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel once Brantley went out.
Now it's time to start giving Alabama No. 1 credit again. What LSU did against Oregon, Mississippi State, and West Virginia was great, but beating Penn State and Florida on the road and dominating Arkansas is every bit as impressive. It all sets up perfectly for the November 5th showdown between the Tide and the Tigers, but for not, Alabama proved that if it's not the best team in the country, it's probably No. 1A.
Even in the modern era of college football, if you can't run the ball effectively, you'll rarely beat quality opponents. Florida spent much of the night in the red on the ground, which was one of the many glaring signs that it was out of its league against visiting ‘Bama.
How fast is Nick Saban's Alabama defense? Too fast even for Florida's two jackrabbits, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, which is saying a mouthful. The Gators got a quick strike from John Brantley to Andre Debose to open up the scoring and raise the decibel level even higher in the Swamp, but it was the only highlight on a night that was utterly dominated by the Crimson Tide D. On the other side of the ball, ‘Bama QB AJ McCarron wasn't great, but he didn't have to be for his guys to cop a fifth consecutive comfortable win. When you wear the same colors as that suffocating defense and RB Trent Richardson, all you basically need to do is not screw things up.
Saban and the Tide have the secret sauce for a championship in 2011, and it's going to sauté opponents with it for the balance of the year. Even in the day and age of inventive offenses and quick-strike passing games, Alabama is employing an old school approach to obliterate all comers. Run it hard between the tackles. Physically intimidate the guy with the ball. Play fundamentally sound in all phases. For some, it may not be as sexy as a 45-42 shootout that fills the air with balls, but in Tuscaloosa, it's a time-tested formula that's working just fine this fall.
By Matt Zemek
Florida brought the heat... and a shockingly potent vertical passing game... for 20 minutes. The Gators surged, soared and positively flew across the field, meeting the Alabama Crimson Tide on even-steven terms. Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis showed signs of establishing a "decided schematic advantage" over and against Alabama's two-headed braintrust of head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
And then reality set in.
John Brantley threw a pick-six. Alabama's front lines started to pound and mash on both sides of the ball. Florida flinched. The snowball started. Brantley got knocked out of the game with a gruesome injury.
So much for those opening 20 minutes, when the Swamp glowed with electricity not confined to the voltage emanating from its stadium lights.
What did we learn about Alabama? Not much - it's still nasty, still supremely physical, and now one step closer to a possible battle of unbeatens with LSU in the scenario the SEC (sans Auburn fans) wants to see in early November. What we still don't know about the Tide is as follows: How will A.J. McCarron react when he has to make plays in a tight game? McCarron didn't make big mistakes once again - that's job number one for him right now, and he's been up to the task - but there will come a point in time when he'll have to be better than 12-for-25. You'll know when that moment arrives, and you'll know if McCarron is worthy of the occasion.
Emerging from this contest, the more uncertain and intriguing situation concerns Florida. One doesn't yet know just how badly Brantley got hurt late in the first half, but his knee injury looked very bad. If Brantley can't regain substantial health by the time of the Georgia game, Florida - almost certain to lose at LSU without its top quarterback - will find itself in a deep ditch. So many of the Gators' struggles in 2010 were the product of having difficulty putting the right players in the right positions. That challenge will re-emerge with Brantley out of the lineup. It will be fascinating to see how Weis - who looked very comfortable calling plays for a Brantley-led offense - will adjust in the coming weeks.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Remember last week when LSU was the toast of the town? The Tigers need to make room for the Tide.
Alabama torched the nation's No. 5 rush defense to the tune of 231 yards, 181 of which were from Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson - a career high. All of that while in the unfriendly confines of The Swamp, which apparently had no impact on Alabama. If LSU is No. 1 - and the Tigers still have that designation as far as I'm concerned - Alabama is No. 1-B, and there isn't another close competitor.
Even with the 38 points, Alabama isn't going to do it with style points. The Tide just leans on you until you submit, and Florida did just that when its offense was relegated to a few pages of the playbook following the injury to quarterback John Brantley. Would it have mattered if Brantley had stayed healthy? Maybe, but Florida couldn't run the ball, and that's not Brantley's department.
Before the game, I said Florida would win the game outright. Clearly I was wrong. Florida still lacks a between-the-tackles running back, but even that might not have mattered against Alabama.
Oh yeah, and Alabama is really good. Did I mention that?
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
I cautioned you not to give too much credit to this Florida program, in terms of both its offense and defensive production/rankings. The Gators had played virtually no one of substance, and they were exposed in this primetime game against the Crimson Tide.
Saturday was the second worst home loss in Gator history.
That's not to say Florida's a bad football team. Nor that Will Muschamp et al don't have this program on the right path.
But Florida is nowhere close to being of the same caliber as LSU and Alabama, which was plainly obvious on Saturday night in a relatively quiet Swamp.
It had little to do with the injury to starting quarterback John Brantley. After an opening play 65 yard TD bomb to Andre Debose, Brantley production was still a respectable 10/15, 125 yards.
But with each snap, this frightening Tide defense got a better read on Brantley. In his first two drives, John was 4/6 for 113 and one touchdown, but Bama tightened up on its goal line and forced Florida to kick a field goal - the Gators last points of the game.
From there on out, Florida had only one first down until the ill-fated last drive that saw Brantley carried off the field.
The real focus of this game should be placed on the trenches, where Alabama dominated on both sides of the line. The Gators had feasted on some of the weakest rushing defenses in the nation, and we warned you that Florida would be fortunate to get even half of it's 259 per game average Saturday night.
Even that was too generous.
The Gators ran for a shocking 15 yards against the Tide.
On defense, the Florida front seven was being compared to the Steel Curtain by some, after playing the following four rushing offenses: Florida Atlantic: 120th (dead last); UAB: 114th; UT: 112th; and Kentucky: 90th.
Bama's Offensive Line dominated this match-up. At no point in this game did you think Florida's front seven was going to be able to stop Bama's running attack. Alabama ended up with 226 yards rushing on 43 carries - a 5.4 ypc average.
If that weren't enough, the Tide played virtually error-free football, with zero turnovers (to Florida's two) and just three penalties.
Would this game have been closer had Brantley not been injured? Absolutely. But to even suggest the ultimate outcome would have been different is farcical.
What's next for the Gators? A road trip to Red Stick and a Bayou Bengal defense that might be even better than the Tide. Then another flight to the plains of Auburn. Then away from home again and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Lick your wounds and saddle up. There is no mercy in the Southeastern Conference.