GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Tyson isn’t one for imparting philosophic wisdom. But the former heavyweight boxing champ did turn a phrase that holds true. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Florida had a plan and Alabama hit Florida in the first quarter. Often. And hard.
Here’s the thing, though. Florida punched back.
No. 1 Alabama failed to put No. 11 Florida away after building a 21-3 cushion and the Gators fought back, coming within an eyelash of toppling the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Will Anderson Jr stopped running back Malik Davis on a game-tying two-point attempt and Alabama escaped Gainesville with a 31-29 victory.
"The main thing our players can learn from this is we have to maintain our intensity throughout a game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "In the first quarter we played great football. We go three-and-out three straight times and they score a touchdown and get the crowd back in the game."
Florida scored three second-half touchdowns, all on the ground, and finished with 245 rush yards against a confused Alabama defense.
"I don't think we've had that for a long time," Saban said. "There are a lot of things we need to do better."
It was all Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at the start and Florida (2-1, 0-1) that didn’t have an answer.
Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young withstood his first true test as a starter in a hostile environment and didn’t flinch.
Florida stacked the box and used several blitz packages to rattle Young to start the game, but to no avail. Young stood tall in the pocket and led Alabama on three straight scoring drives in the first quarter and was 12 of 16 passing for 138 yards with three TD passes.
He wasn’t as sharp the rest of the game, going 10 of 19 for 95 yards.
Young led Alabama to an easy scoring drive on its first possession, aided by a pass interference penalty. Young hit Jase McClellan on a swing pass for a 7-yard touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive for the 7-0 lead.
Alabama drove 75 yards on its next possession and went up 14-3 after tight end Jahleel Billingsley caught an over-the-shoulder pass for a 26-yard score.
Everything went right for Alabama in the first quarter. An interception by Jalyn Armour-Davis put Alabama back in business and Brian Robinson caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-3.
It wasn’t so smooth sailing for Gator quarterback Emory Jones. The junior was inconsistent and missed open receivers several times. That prompted a series of boos from the Florida home fans.
Jones finished 12 of 27 for 181 yards and one interception. He was effective with his legs, running for 80 yards on 19 carries.
Alabama’s run game was held in check Saturday, totaling just 91 yards on 27 attempts. But Young and the receivers did enough through the air to come out on top.
Florida bolted out of the gate in the third quarter with a Dameon Pierce touchdown run to make it 21-16, which got the crowd back in the game.
Alabama answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Brian 2-yard touchdown run. It was the third 75-yard scoring drive by Alabama. Except for one snap in the final seconds, the TD drive was also Alabama’s lone possession of the third quarter.
"We made the plays on offense to stay ahead in the game, as well as take the air out of it at the end of the game," Saban said.
Florida answered with a 99-yard drive, capped by a Jones 1-yard run. Florida converted two third downs on the drive, which made it a 28-23 deficit.
Will Reichard booted a 24-yard field goal to make it an eight-point game, but Florida ran the ball down Alabama’s throat again on the next drive, resulting in a 17-yard Pierce touchdown run. The Gators converted two more third downs on the drive.
Jameson Williams led Alabama with four catches for 61 yards and Robinson had 75 yards rushing with a rushing TD and a receiving score.
Alabama hosts Southern Miss next Saturday.