USA TODAY International Edition

Tide rise to toughest challenge in Swamp

Top- ranked Alabama hangs on to defeat Florida on the road

- Cecil Hurt The Tuscaloosa News USA TODAY Network

GAINESVILL­E, Fla. – For one quarter, Alabama football had a strong upper hand.

In the end, Alabama was using that hand to cling desperatel­y to the cliff.

Alabama did hang on, barely, to win 31- 29 at The Swamp here on Saturday.

It was the second consecutiv­e season that Alabama had faced its sternest test against Florida.

The question this year, unlike in 2020, is whether sterner tests await.

A 21- 3 lead in the first quarter seemed comfortabl­e enough, the usual case of the Crimson Tide going through their paces.

Instead, it wasn’t nearly enough. The total offense for Alabama in the second quarter could have been measured in millimeter­s if the USA hadn’t taken Florida from Spain back in 1819, or roughly the last time, so it seemed, that the Crimson Tide had played here.

The same sort of slowdown happened against Miami in the opener, but the Hurricanes were already looking for the white flag before halftime. Florida was very much alive.

As in any transition, things change. The harsh fact, which Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has been preaching all year long, is that this team isn’t last year’s team. No one feels sorry for Alabama’s well- stocked roster, but that neither means that there have been four NFL first- draft choices standing around on the sideline or that young talent plays the same way as experience­d talent.

That takes nothing away from the play of sophomore running back Jase McClellan, who salvaged the game with his backup play behind Brian Robinson Jr.

At one point in the game, Alabama had Florida lined up for an earlier knockout shot. A gritty Crimson Tide touchdown drive was followed by an inexplicab­le Florida special- teams bungle that left the Gators pinned on their own 1- yard line, 99 yards away from answer

ing and facing a 3rd- and- 10.

Instead of keeping the Gators in that trap, like so many Alabama defenses have done in the past, the Crimson Tide allowed them to escape into open water.

And when that happens, suddenly it’s Advantage Florida. After 99 yards and a Gators touchdown, The Swamp was shaking at Richter scale levels from the pure noise of it all.

What might have been one of the great manhood versus manhood moments in recent history never happened because of one of Alabama’s many penalties, a false start that pushed the Crimson Tide from the Florida 1- yard line, where Saban was ready for a test of wills that never happened. Instead, Will Reichard kicked a short field goal, setting the stage for the 10- minute drama at the end.

It ended with an odd two- point try by Florida, where quarterbac­k Emory Jones and his running back sort of scrummed together like the Samoan rugby team without the same success.

Florida coach Dan Mullen then decided not to try an onside kick and didn’t get the ball back before miracle time, without the miracle.

Alabama quarterbac­k Bryce Young’s poise was not the issue. He moved the Crimson Tide to the points they needed to have in the fourth quarter and burned enough time on the final Alabama drive.

The Crimson Tide defense never repaid him or the offense by making the key stops in some very stoppable situations: not rushing, not passing stops.

If Florida’s offense is in fact better with Anthony Richardson at quarterbac­k, then the Crimson Tide have a sore hamstring to thank for escaping at all.

 ?? GARY COSBY/ USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Tight end Jahleel Billingsle­y catches a 26- yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young that capped a seven- play, 75- yard drive in the first quarter that gave Alabama a 14- 3 lead against Florida.
GARY COSBY/ USA TODAY SPORTS Tight end Jahleel Billingsle­y catches a 26- yard touchdown pass from Bryce Young that capped a seven- play, 75- yard drive in the first quarter that gave Alabama a 14- 3 lead against Florida.
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