Instant Analysis: Alabama-Florida

Staff Columnist
Posted Sep 30, 2006

While Florida's offensive braintrust gets the most attention, it was the Gators' pair of defensive minds--plus a "Dallas" receiver wearing No. 81--who lifted the fifth-ranked team in the nation to a victory over Alabama on Saturday.

Throughout an afternoon that saw Mike Shula outflanking them on most occasions with a pass-first approach, Florida's defensive gurus--Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison--had to be concerned with the lack of a pass rush on Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson. This inability to get pressure with a base defense enabled the Tide to control the ball with the passing game and keep the contest close into the fourth quarter. Down by just one point, 14-13, the Tide--with one more ball-control drive against Strong's and Mattison's defense--would have been in position to steal a road win in the SEC.

It was then that the Gators' defensive coordinators pulled the trigger. Earl Everett was the shooter.

Everett, a senior linebacker, shot through an opening to force a premature throw by Wilson that Ryan Smith picked off for a Florida turnover that was secured when Reggie Nelson recovered Smith's subsequent fumble. Florida's aggressiveness on defense made the first huge play of the game's defining and decisive quarter.

Dallas Baker the touchdown maker came up with the second one.

With everyone in the ballpark knowing that Florida had to score seven points to take advantage of the turnover and attain control of the game for the first time all afternoon, Baker--who scored the winning touchdown in the Gators' win at Tennessee two weeks earlier--literally rose above the moment to cement his team's victory in the Swamp. Chris Leak threw a jump ball to Baker, who was locked in one-on-one combat with Bama cornerback Ramzee Robinson. Baker's 6'3" frame towered over Robinson's 5'10" figure, but Robinson gamely competed on the play. He elevated at least a foot to challenge the pass, but Baker--while rising to meet the ball, also extended his long arms over Robinson's head. You need to have excellent and agile hands to be a first-rate Baker--especially when reaching into the oven--and Dallas pulled this loaf of bread out of the fire to score a touchdown and take the heat off his Gator teammates and everyone else inside a nervous Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It was a man-sized catch from a player who has become a difference maker for Florida this season. As a result of that play--and Earl Everett's blitz, called by Florida's defensive coordinators--the Gators get to face LSU next week with a still-unblemished slate.

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