Florida can finally focus on No. 1 ‘Bama

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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

By GREG STODA
Palm Beach Post Writer

The September affliction known as Alabama-itis — a nagging concern for all things Crimson Tide rather than complete concentration on tasks at hand — is no more.

The Florida Gators shook off the attitudinal fever well enough Saturday night in The Swamp to come out with a 48-14 smashing of previously unbeaten Kentucky — getting a school-record six touchdowns from backup quarterback Trey Burton — and remain undefeated themselves. It was easily the most thorough and convincing show this season by the ninth-ranked (and rising?) Gators, who had been more ordinary than impressive in three earlier wins.

“We got tired of hearing the junk,” explained Florida center Mike Pouncey.

Now, finally, top-ranked Alabama is worthy of the Gators’ full attention. The Southeastern Conference rivals meet next weekend in Tide country in what many expect will be a preview of the league’s championship showdown come December.

Florida’s win against the Wildcats came hours after Alabama struggled mightily to a 24-20 victory at Arkansas, and the Gators seemed intent on making a decisive presentation of themselves after their uneven three-game start.

Most notably, there was an early crispness to Florida’s offense before it reverted to a familiar lethargy for a brief time.

Overall, though, John Brantley looked as comfortable and as confident (24-of-35, 248 yards and a touchdown) as he has all season in the burdensome role of quarterback successor to Gator god Tim Tebow, and it showed in his group’s general efficiency.

The Gators opened things by shattering the Wildcats with touchdown drives of 64 and 85 yards before the end of the first quarter,.

The two touchdowns were the Gators’ first opening-quarter points of the season.

Brantley said he didn’t “feel so rushed” as Florida made an effort to get to the line of scrimmage more quickly than it had in games past, which gave the quarterback more time to survey situations.

The result was that the Gators carried a much more dangerous sheen than they had during sometimes sleep-walking wins against Miami of Ohio, South Florida and Tennessee.

The display Florida put on against Kentucky, in fact, was the first time this season that the Gators lived up to their national reputation and billing.

Sure, the Wildcats are favorite Florida punching bags. It was the Gators’ 24th consecutive win against Kentucky, for example, but that shouldn’t detract from Florida’s obvious improvement.

But neither were the Gators able to seize control of the proceedings until late after having given themselves every immediate opportunity to do so. The Wildcats, who appeared ready and willing to be throttled after Florida’s opening onslaught, instead wandered back into the fray with a late first-half touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-7 at the break.

Florida’s third-quarter reply consisted of 83- and 80-yard touchdown drives.

The question remaining, though, is this: Are the Gators capable of going to Alabama and beating, or so much as challenging, the Crimson Tide?

The guess is that Alabama, which found itself in a 20-7 hole at Arkansas before exhibiting an unwavering resolve to win, will be a double-digit points favorite or close to it against the Gators. And that seems reasonable.

The Gators did look better against the Wildcats offensively than they have looked all season, but the assignment against the Tide still almost certainly represents water too deep for Florida to navigate successfully.

But the best news for the Gators is that a case of Alabama-itis is appropriate at last.

“It’s ‘Bama Week!” Gators head coach Meyer declared.

And not a moment too soon for his guys.

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