College Football

No. 1 Alabama looks mortal but holds on for a tight win at No. 11 Florida

September 18, 2021

For the first time in 2021, top-ranked Alabama showed some signs of vulnerability Saturday.

The defending national champion sputtered after jumping to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter but ultimately turned back a potential game-tying two-point conversion to hold off No. 11 Florida 31-29.

For the Crimson Tide (3-0), who were playing their first true road game of the season, it was the first close call since the 2020 SEC Championship Game against … the rival Gators.

That game was a star-studded affair featuring Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Patrick Surtain II, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney, all of whom were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Alabama won a shootout that night in Atlanta, claiming a 52-46 victory on its way to winning the national title.

While the cast of characters was different this time around in Gainesville, Florida, the game Saturday looked awfully similar.

And both teams can walk out of the Swamp feeling better about themselves.

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For Florida, the loss will sting, but the Gators once again proved to be among the SEC's elite programs, capable of playing with the best team in the country. Florida rolled up 245 rushing yards, the most allowed by an Alabama defense since an Oct. 10, 2020, matchup with Ole Miss in which the Rebels ran for 268 yards.

Four of Alabama's past six victories have come by an average of 29.8 points. The Tide's two wins against Florida in that same span have come by a combined eight points.

After Alabama jumped to an early 18-point lead behind three TD passes from Bryce Young, it looked like the Tide might be in for another easy September Saturday.

Florida managed to fight back, however, outscoring the Tide 26-10 over the next three quarters. If not for some untimely penalties, the Gators might have handed Nick Saban's squad its first loss since a November 2019 defeat at Auburn.

Also, Alabama has to feel encouraged by the play of its sophomore quarterback, as Young passed his first road test.

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Young has faced two ranked opponents in his first three career starts, then-No. 14 Miami and now Florida.

In those two games, he completed 67.1% of his pass attempts for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. He is following in the footsteps of Tua Tagovailoa and Jones, both of whom were first-round picks, as thus far, Young looks to be the next Alabama quarterback in line to be an early pick when it's time for him to head to the NFL.

The SEC is a gauntlet, and Alabama has on its schedule four more teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25.

But with Young and a fairly young team having won two matchups against ranked teams in two different ways, there is reason to believe the Tide will only get better as the season progresses.

With Florida being in the SEC East and Alabama in the SEC West, there is a possibility that these two teams will see each other for a third time in the SEC title game in December.

Who could say no to that after the past two matchups?

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