Alabama Barely Edges Out Florida in SEC Opener


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has quieted down. A game that was a lot nearer than many anticipated had the Gators’ followers permeating the air with deafening chants as they made one final effort to will their staff previous the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This 31-29 defeat of the Gators has confirmed what the Crimson Tide soccer staff already knew, and what its opponents feared: This Alabama program, which disemboweled Ohio State simply 9 months in the past, is recharged and has its eyes on its subsequent nationwide title.

But Saturday’s exhibiting was removed from good for the Crimson Tide. They dedicated 12 penalties for 87 yards. They left their run game in Tuscaloosa, gaining solely 91 yards on the bottom. They made errors down the stretch that prevented them from pulling away from the Gators, as when receiver Slade Bolden dropped a surefire landing cross in the middle of the top zone in the third quarter.

The Alabama protection, which allowed simply 135 yards on the bottom in opposition to Miami and Mercer, surrendered 258 yards to the Gators, together with a 17-yard landing run by Dameon Pierce, the working again who waltzed into the top zone almost untouched late in the fourth quarter to deliver Florida inside 2 factors of finishing a comeback.

A failed Florida 2-point try adopted that play, nonetheless, stalling the Gators at a 2-point deficit and in the end locking them out of the upset.

What separates Alabama from virtually every other staff in the nation is its capability to defeat opponents on off days like Saturday.

Not that one would low cost a Nick Saban-led staff heading into any season — Alabama was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press’s Top-25 preseason poll — however this isn’t the identical staff that defeated the Buckeyes in the 2020 College Football Playoff championship game. Ten of the gamers who suited up for that game now play in the N.F.L. Typically, groups with that type of roster turnover see various levels of decline the following season. They definitely wouldn’t be anticipated to be in playoff rivalry.

Last season, Louisiana State University hardly resembled the dominant 2019 staff that powered by way of the Southeastern Conference on its solution to a 15-Zero season and a win in the College Football Playoff. It misplaced 14 gamers to the N.F.L. just a few months later, together with quarterback Joe Burrow, working again Clyde Edwards-Helaire and receiver Justin Jefferson, and limped to a 5-5 report in 2020.

Alabama’s capability to churn out N.F.L.-ready expertise seemingly each season, whereas different groups spend years recruiting and constructing to that time, is what has created a niche between it and lots of others. And if Saturday’s game was any glimpse at what’s to be anticipated from the Crimson Tide in convention play, it seems that Saban has as soon as once more assembled a staff poised to make one other College Football Playoff look.

“I talked about it when I got here,” Florida Coach Dan Mullen stated after the game, referring to when he took over this system in 2018. “I want a team that can compete for championships on a consistent basis. And to do that, you’re going to have to beat Alabama.”

Throughout his 15-year tenure in Tuscaloosa, Saban and his workers have proven a perennial capability to recruit and discipline expertise at a charge seemingly unmatched by even essentially the most profitable applications in the nation.

Mike Locksley, Maryland’s coach and a former offensive coordinator beneath Saban, stated in an interview this 12 months that he believed Alabama’s embrace of a stunning air game had helped this system entice a bigger variety of proficient gamers in the years after stars like Julio Jones electrified Tuscaloosa.

“I would venture to say that had they still been turning around and handing off to the running back 45, 50 times a game, it makes it tough to recruit skilled receivers,” he stated. “But I think the numbers that guys like Julio put up and Amari Cooper put up and then obviously Calvin Ridley put up, it created this mind-set that you can go there as a receiver and still put up numbers in that style of offense, and it allows you to recruit more guys with that type of skill and that type of skill set, which then opens up your offense to be as diverse as they’ve become.”

The Crimson Tide have by no means had a dropping season beneath Saban and have prevented regressing, efficiently reloading their roster yearly. Saban’s program has signed the nation’s top recruiting class in eight of the final 10 seasons. It got here in second to Georgia in 2020 and 2018.

“Obviously, Coach Saban and his staff are the best recruiters, and they do an excellent job with the team attitude also,” stated Steve Spurrier, who received the Heisman as Florida’s quarterback in 1966.

Spurrier pointed to the group as Florida’s greatest benefit heading into Saturday’s matchup. Though Saban stated after the game that he thought the sophomore quarterback Bryce Young managed the game effectively regardless of the group noise, the 90,000 followers in their residence stadium, referred to as the Swamp, definitely made a distinction in the game, forcing Saban’s usually disciplined staff to commit errors.

Saban advised reporters that among the staff’s errors have been a results of points with the snap depend.

“The center had trouble hearing a couple times and snapped the ball late,” Saban stated, including later: “All in all I think there’s a lot to learn. I’m hopeful that our team can learn from this experience.”

Florida’s protection, which had been a lot maligned in 2020 and in the primary two video games of the season, pressured Young into some uncomfortable throws, resulting in incompletions that riled up the Florida followers in attendance. But Florida’s offense constantly missed alternatives to benefit from these missteps, and Alabama’s offense did simply sufficient to remain forward.

“Our guys expected to win the game today,” Mullen stated, including, “When you play in championship-level games, the margin for error is going to get extremely small.”

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