The Florida Gators fought tooth and nail, but ultimately came up just short and lost to Alabama, 31-29 in the Swamp. What stood out in the process?
1: The Swamp was ROCKING
Anybody who doesn’t believe or understand the impact a home environment has on a college football game has simply never been to the Swamp. Florida’s fifth largest crowd ever of 90,887 caused major disruptions to Alabama’s offense, including four pre-snap penalties, a delay of game, a forced timeout, and may have literally cost the Tide four points with one of those penalties pushing the offense back from a fourth-and-short into a fourth-and-now-we-have-to-kick-a-field-goal. Well done, Gator Nation. Well done.
2: A bad first quarter cost Florida the game
The first two games of the season, the issue was that Florida built up a lead and then just cruised, refusing or failing to keep the foot on the accelerator. Last night, the opposite was true. Florida came out flat defensively, allowing three straight Alabama touchdown drives to start the game and burying the Gators in a 21-3 hole that they would not climb out of. Offensively, the Gators drove down inside the Alabama ten, but stalled and had to kick a field goal; the next three drives accomplished nothing. Both the offense and defense played great the rest of the way, but coming back from 21-3 down against a team like Alabama just isn’t realistic to expect.
3: Shades of 1999
For the second time in the last quarter century, a missed PAT cost Florida a win over Alabama in the Swamp. This time, Chris Howard’s PAT following Florida’s first touchdown of the game sailed wide, keeping the game at 21-9 instead of 21-10. That forced Florida to try a two point conversion late in the game, which failed when Emory Jones rode a read play too far and Alabama stuffed it. If not for that, the Gators and Tide would have been knotted up at 31 with 3:10 remaining. Sure, better to have this happen early than late in the season, but that’s certainly an early red flag for a team that- spoiler alert, this may look crazy to read in hindsight later on in the season, but at this specific juncture three weeks into the season- is a legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff.
4: Jean DeLance was EXCELLENT
Jean DeLance has had all sorts of abuse hurled his way from Gator fans the past couple of years as a result of some serious struggles at right tackle. But against a team littered with five stars across its defense, the former four star transfer from Texas more than held his own. A run through of the film shows that there were all of two plays where he got beat off the snap at right tackle; on every other play, he did his job for an adequate amount of time. In other words, he won’t get a perfect grade this week, but he’s demonstrated tremendous improvements from last season, and that’s to be commended. Good for you, Jean.
5: Florida is- no hyperbole- a player for the CFP
As mentioned in takeaway #3, I realize this may age poorly. After all, Florida has never made the CFP, not even with last year’s dynamic offense. And look: no loss can ever be considered a win. Never one for moral victories, I’ve long loathed the idea of “good losses” since by definition, a loss means that you could have played better. But the Gators have nothing to be ashamed of as a team yesterday- and what’s more, they actually improved the national narrative about the program. After an early pick, Emory Jones played great; after a bad first quarter, the defense played great. With no real damage having been done to their resume with a nailbiter defeat to the #1 team in the country, everything remains in front of them. Now, assuming they can avoid stumbling on the road against Kentucky or LSU, the next month all becomes a buildup to the real game of the season: the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, and one of the biggest Florida-Georgia showdowns of all time.