By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 1, 2011
Apparently, in whatever second language Charlie Weis speaks, “kitchen sink” translates to “10 points.”
After a week of hearing about how Florida was new and improved, Alabama put an old-style beatdown on the Gators, in their own backyard, and it could have been much worse – especially if the field officials had correctly ruled on John Brantley’s fumble at the end of the first half.
But even before Brantley left with some kind of leg injury, Alabama was making it clear to Florida, Weis and new Gator head coach Will Muschamp that Florida may very well be great again someday … but not yet.
Florida running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were shut out. Demps was injured on a clean tackle by an Alabama placekicker. Nothing points to the soft remnants of a spread offense like getting hammered by the opposing team’s kicking specialist.
Outside of the first two drives, Florida’s receivers looked just as average as they’ve been the last two years. Brantley was serviceable at quarterback, but wasn’t going to lead a miracle comeback.
But the real surprise came along both lines of scrimmage, where Alabama finally put its foot down. The Crimson Tide defense brought consistent pressure on the Florida quarterbacks, often without the benefit of a major blitz package. The offensive line yielded no sacks, and Alabama was able to accomplish the hallmark of any successful SEC team: It ran the ball both when it had to, and when it wanted to.
In essence, an Alabama program that had taken the Gators’ manhood in 2009 (along with, arguably, then-coach Urban Meyer’s) still hasn’t given it back. Alabama has outrushed Florida by a ratio of somewhere around 5-to-1 over its last three games. Defensively, Alabama hits noticeably harder. It’s odd that one of the most important, positive effects to the long-term health of the Alabama program came in a loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game in 2008. Because since then, Alabama has not just refused to lose, it’s refused to let Florida look like it even belonged on the same field.
With Muschamp now leading the party in Gainesville, it would seem only a matter of time before Florida does indeed return to the top of the SEC East. Had Brantley not been injured in this game, Florida would probably have left this game the presumptive leader of the division, no matter what the score. With South Carolina incapable of putting together consistent performances and Georgia perpetually a step or two away from a straightjacket, Florida was beginning to look like the team that would be most apt to break from the pack.
But now, no one can be sure. Brantley’s injury looked serious, but the larger problem was the ineptitude of backup quarterback Jeff Driskel. It was somewhat amazing that Muschamp and Weis did not have Driskel better prepared to come into this game. Any true freshman backup would look overwhelmed in the face of the Alabama defense, but Weis’ reputation as some kind of quarterback whisperer took a hit Saturday.
And it wasn’t as if Alabama played a flawless game. Whether it was the special teams mistake of DeQuan Menzie or Dre Kirkpatrick finally joining the ranks of cornerbacks that have been burned (transitioning over from the ranks of cornerbacks that will someday be burned), Alabama made enough mistakes to endanger the outcome.
The difference between Saturday and those losses from back in the program’s history, however, was clear: Alabama never lost its composure, actually seeming to feed off the energy of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In addition to putting more talent on the field, Alabama supplemented that talent with better and more focused coaching. There were plenty of times Alabama could have opted to fold up; not only did Alabama not succumb, it threw the pressure and the chaos back into Florida’s face.
It is now fair to begin asking the question of whether this team could develop into one of the best teams in Alabama history. Given the history of Alabama football, it’s simultaneously an exciting and a scary question.
Especially for the next few teams on the schedule.
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