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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Alabama almost lost.
And there is hope across the land.
That’s about as good as it gets if you are a Southeastern Conference contender outside of Tusca-rarely-loosa.
No. 1 Alabama beat No. 11 Florida, 31-29, here Saturday night for its 17th straight win and No. 32 in a row over an East team, but the Tide was just holding on and got lucky after being dominated by Florida’s offense to the tune of 439 yards. And Florida was without its better quarterback in Anthony Richardson, who sat out with a hamstring injury.
The Gators’ critical two-point conversion attempt to tie with 3:10 to play with quarterback Emory Jones half handing off to Malik Davis literally looked like a walk-through drill, and Alabama squashed it at the 1-yard line. Ball game.
Not a fitting end as Alabama surrendered 258 rushing yards with a six-yard average. The Tide could not stop the Gators, and Florida’s defense also slapped Alabama around, holding it to 91 rushing yards and 3.4-yard average. The 167-yard rush differential is the second largest allowed by Alabama since coach Nick Saban took over in 2007.
Saban’s defense also gave up a 99-yard touchdown drive for just the second time at Alabama.
If Jones does not throw an interception to Alabama cornerback Jalyn-Armour Davis in the first quarter that set the Tide up at the Gators 38-yard line for a touchdown and 21-3 lead six plays later, Florida may have pulled it out.
Other than that, Jones completed 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards and rushed for 80 on 19 carries.
Can you imagine how much Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin will enjoy watching his Bama-Florida film today? Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral just became the first SEC quarterback in history to throw three touchdowns and rush for four in the Rebels’ 61-21 win over Tulane.
Sure, it was just the Green Wave, but that doesn’t matter. The hope in Oxford will be building for the next two weeks as two words reverberate around the square – “Alabama almost lost.”
Corral completed 23 of 31 passes for 335 yards and rushed 13 times for 68 yards. Kiffin has two weeks to come up with plays for his nemesis Saban. The Rebels are off this week before playing on Oct. 2 at Alabama, which hosts Southern Mississippi Saturday.
Kiffin gave Alabama its biggest scare last year as his offense put up 647 yards – the most ever against the Tide – in a 63-48 loss that was close until the very end. Corral threw for 365 and rushed for 40 in that game.
There is more hope in College Station, Texas, as well as Alabama’s date there on Oct. 9 suddenly looks not so easy, particularly after new Aggie quarterback Zach Calzada completed 19 of 33 for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-0 win over New Mexico. Yes, it was New Mexico.
But Alabama almost lost. Alabama may be human.
And Calzada looked better than he did last week in the 10-7 win over Colorado after replacing injured starter Haynes King, who will miss several weeks if not more with a broken leg.
“We either have got to play more players or have more opportunities (turnovers),” Saban said. “We had a difficult time stopping the run.”
Was that doubt?
“Their offense took us out of a lot of things that we wanted to do when they kept running the speed option all the time,” Saban said. “They had a good plan.”
Note to Lane Kiffin – run more speed option.
Note to Jimbo Fisher – put in more speed option.
Saban, though, may have his team right where he wants it – a little worried. He would rather that than overconfident, which he dealt with previously this season. Remember, this is a man who actually said this after a fortunate, 22-21 win over Oregon State in the opener of his last season at LSU in 2004 – the season after he won his first national championship:
“We may have been better off losing this game,” he said.
Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is not saying that after he lost 31-29 to Memphis. Leach seemed dumbfounded and disinterested after the game.
This brings hope on a smaller scale than what is at Ole Miss and A&M to LSU, which finally looked decent this season in a 49-21 win over Central Michigan. UCLA lost to Fresno State, by the way, so that opening loss for the Tigers looks even worse. But State looks beatable.
LSU (2-1) is at Mississippi State (2-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN and desperately needs to win that with Auburn (2-1) at home, at Kentucky (3-0) and Florida (2-1) over the next three weeks.
As in Florida’s loss to Alabama, a key turnover and a poor play choice at the end spelled doom for No. 22 Auburn at No. 10 Penn State in a 28-20 loss.
But with Alabama wavering a tad perhaps, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Auburn all look like it can play with the Tide – particularly after digesting some intense film study of Florida’s near win.
The only problem is Saban will be watching it, too, and has his players attention now.