Hoooooooo boy that was a close one. When Nick Saban comes into the post game press conference all happy and chatty, you know that he was nervous and just happy the team survived the day.
Look, there’s going to be some gnashing of teeth about the way Alabama performed today, especially regarding the offensive line and rushing defense, but don’t forget that Florida is ranked #11 in the nation and brought the Tide to just as close of a game less than 1 year ago, when Alabama fielded the best college football squad of all time.
It wasn’t pretty, and there are some concerning warts, but Alabama did show the ability to do just enough to close out a win against one of the top teams in the country in an extremely hostile environment. That kind of experience is great for all of the young players to get now, rather than not having a tight one until the post-season.
The Tide offense started as hot as an ant under a little kid’s magnifying glass, scorching Florida for three straight touchdowns.
Alabama vs. Florida Video Thread— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) September 18, 2021
Jase McClellan scores his 4th touchdown of the year on this 7-yd TD pass from Bryce Young pic.twitter.com/wsIvtXoIBP
Even Jahleel Billingsley finally worked his way back into the starting lineup and came up with a brilliant out-n-up toe-tapping touchdown.
Touchdown Alabama— Alabama DieHards (@DiehardsAlabama) September 18, 2021
Jahleel Billingsley with a Touchdown pic.twitter.com/2FqFaOoEHg
With an 18 point lead after only 1 quarter, it looked all the world like Alabama was about to run away with yet another supposedly elite opponent, and everyone around the nation was going to start flipping channels.
Instead, the Florida defense stepped up and forced three straight three and outs, and the Alabama defense gave up a touchdown after a deep shot pass interference penalty extended Florida’s drive. Still, a 21-9 halftime lead wasn’t too concerning. The offense could regroup and figure out the funk, and the Tide defense had been playing well other than a ticky-tack call.
Then the second half happened.
You ever seen an entire half of football go by with only 5 total drives, all of which ended in points and all consisted of double digit plays? Cause that’s apparently the world we live in now.
Florida totally abandoned any semblance of a normal passing attack, flipped to a modern triple-option, and utterly gashed the Tide defense over and over and over and over and over for the entire half. Alabama couldn’t tackle the backs on the first attempt, and in the rare cases they forced a 3rd or 4th down, Florida converted with scrambling sandlot throws from Emory Jones to keep things going.
Fortunately, Bryce Young was absolutely surgical, methodically marching the Alabama offense down the field to match Florida’s scoring drives with those of his own. The Tide’s final full drive ended in a field goal when the Gators stuffed Alabama’s goalline offense 3 plays in a row, but the 14 play drive drained enough clock that, the next time Alabama got the ball back, 1 first down was enough to bleed it down to 9 seconds.
Aussie punter James Burnip, in possibly the most stressful moment of his life, managed a quick, high kick against and all-out block attempt from the Gators, and the return man had to fair catch it with 4 seconds left.
Jaylen Moody took down a scrambling Emory Jones as he looked for room to throw a Hail Mary, and that was that.
On offense, that 2nd quarter was really rough for Alabama, but overall, the offense did enough today to win a game against anyone in the country. Young made throw after throw despite playing in the highest pressure and most crowd animosity he’s ever seen in his life. John Metchie and Jameson Williams never got open deep, but both broke tackles and converted first downs in timely moments. Brian Robinson and Jase McClellan also both made some nice plays in the passing game, and Robinson twice got a critical first down on 3rd down by bowling through a would-be tackler.
The offensive line, though... Man. Darrian Dalcourt and Young had a LOT of issues getting snaps off correctly, and Alabama took a number of false start and delay of game penalties. The entire interior was unable to ever get any sort of push against Florida’s defensive line, and the Alabama backs were stuffed again and again.
With better offensive line play, this Alabama offense will take off. However, I’m beginning to think it may need Chris Owens back at center, and someone to step up at RT.
On defense, this was just a bad showing. You can’t go into a game against a team with an anemic passing attack and let them totally gash you on the ground. It’s just plain unacceptable for a veteran defense.
Will Anderson was an absolute monster in both the pass rush and blowing up runs, but the team shouldn't have to rely on him every single play like that. The dude was so tired he could barely walk off the field at the end.
The safety duo missed way too many tackles, and that didn't help. I guess they were fine in coverage though? Florida never really even tried to throw on them.
Josh Jobe saved the defense on huge gains with down field tackles way more than a corner should ever be asked to do, and both he and Armor-Davis played really well in coverage before Florida switched to running the ball the entire second half.
The defense just totally lost their intensity and ability to tackle or get off of blocks, and I don't know how to go about assigning blame there. Basically everyone but Anderson, I guess.
This is the year that defensive coordinator Pete Golding finally has a fully stocked, talented, and experienced defense. If he can't get this group to be elite, it's likely his last shot. And right now, he's sitting at 66% (at best) through 3 games.
All complaining aside, though, I came away from this extremely impressed with Bryce Young, and was proud of the team for being able to squeeze the clock when they had to to finish off a tense win.
The QB is the most important piece for any football team, and Alabams's got one that has the level head and talent to pull off a win in any circumstances. That's huge.
The season is a long one, and Alabama and Saban have plenty of time to figure out the offensive line and fix whatever broke in the defense today. Hopefully, they can do it.