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October 3, 2010TUSCALOOSA _ Pick the term you want, but there was just no way to sugarcoat what happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.
Beat-down would be a good description. Domination would be another. How about the University of Alabama football team has turned even Florida into a bit player in the Southeastern Conference?
It had been nearly 10 months since they faced off in the second of back-to-back No. 1 vs. 2 meetings in the SEC Championship Game, and the Gators still didn't have any answers for the Crimson Tide.
They still didn't match up physically, still gave up long drives that were impossible to effectively counter and still got burned by the balanced offense. Similar to last year's game in the Georgia Dome, Alabama jumped out to an early lead and rode it to a 31-6 victory.
Only this time Alabama's defense, with nine new starters, led the way for the No. 1 Crimson Tide (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC), by showing an intensity and intimidation that was reminiscent of last year's national championship squad.
"I'm really excited about it, especially the timing of it," junior center William Vlachos said. "The turnovers they made when they needed to be made were absolutely incredible. Hats off to them, everyone on that defense, it was really encouraging to see."
Twice the aggressive Crimson Tide pulled off a turnover when Florida had the ball at its 1-yard line, and it created two other costly turnovers that helped turn the game into a blowout.
"I'm really pleased and happy with the way our team came out and played in the first half," Coach Nick Saban said. "I thought we had great energy, enthusiasm, passion and intensity. We played against a very good team. It was a very physical game. We made a lot of plays, defensively especially, down in the red zone whether it was getting turnovers or a fourth-down stop. I'm sure there are a lot of things we can work on, get better at and improve.
"The second half we probably didn't play offense like we wanted to. We ended up on the field quite a bit defensively. Maybe we shut it down a little too early in the game."
After Alabama recorded a field goal on its first possession, Florida drove all the way to the Tide 1 where it was poised to take an early lead. It never did, though, because when the Gators decided to go for it on fourth down senior linebacker Chavis Williams made the hit to hold up tight end Jordan Reed and give sophomore linebacker Nico Johnson a clear shot at the jump-pass in the end zone for the interception.
"At first it was like that linebacker thing, just everything slowed down for that split-second," Johnson said. "I saw the ball and tried to make a play and it turned out good."
No. 7 Florida (4-1, 2-1 SEC) never recovered.
Alabama needed just nine plays to go the length of the field, with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram scoring on a 6-yard end around, and things only got worse from there for the visitors. When Ingram punched in another score the Tide really started smelling blood and seemingly had an answer to everything Florida tried.
Consider the following possession midway through the first quarter:
On first down junior quarterback John Brantley dropped back only to get junior defensive Marcell Dareus in his face to force the incompletion.
Brantley rolled to his right on second down only to have junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw chase him down from behind for a loss.
Finally, the quarterback tried to get it to last week's hero, freshman Trey Burton, only to see sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pick the pass off to give Alabama the ball in the red zone.
Florida looked like it wanted to crawl back into its locker room only there was still 6 minutes and 53 seconds until half and Alabama had the ball. Even worse for the Gators was two plays later offensive coordinator Jim McElwain called for the Bobcat with junior wide receiver Marquis Maze taking the snap and the former high school quarterback caught the defense completely by surprise on a 19-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Michael Williams for a shocking 24-0 lead.
"When I came out and saw the safety still sitting there I knew I had a pretty good chance to get that ball," said Williams, adding that Alabama had been working on that play since spring. "When you have Marquis Maze in the backfield you have to respect the run."
Previously, Alabama had only run out of the wildcat this season, 20 carries for 108 yards.
Meanwhile, the defense limited Florida to 79 rushing yards, three third-down conversions and zero touchdowns. Burton, who had six touchdowns last week against Kentucky, had four catches for 33 yards, a 5 rushing yards and his only pass attempt was the Johnson interception.
"That's what we've been waiting on," Saban said.
With Dareus and Upshaw appearing to be fully recovered from ankle sprains and junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower taking off one of his knee braces the Tide kept the pressure up from start to finish.
Any hopes of a comeback were dashed when after getting another field goal, a Brantley pass over the middle was intercepted by true freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley, who returned it for a 35-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
"We were all picking at C.J. because this was like the sixth, seventh time he could have had a pick," Johnson said with a laugh. "Finally he got one."
To add insult to injury, Florida again got to the 1 only to fumble the exchange with Upshaw recovering.
"It was awful," Florida coach Urban Meyer, who has been outscored 62-9 in two games here (31-3 in 2005) said of his team's red-zone play. "We just have to get better. It was real disappointing. That game is a different game I think. I don't know if we would've beat them because they were pretty good today, but we just self destructed. Turnovers and red zone inefficiency, that wasn't good."
Alabama has won nine straight games against teams ranked in the Associated Press poll and 17 straight games at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The win was even more impressive considering that five of Alabama's last seven opponents (dating back to last season) were ranked in the Associated Press poll.
But as Saban put it, this was a "huge win."
"We just went out and executed plays, and we basically had fun," Upshaw said. "We had fun."