GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There were concerns leading up to Alabama's first road game about how the Crimson Tide, particularly sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, would be able to handle the crowd noise and hostile environment of Florida after a season with little to no crowds.
Well, to say it was loud on Saturday in Gainesville would be an understatement, yet Young remained poised and led No. 1 Alabama to a 31-29 victory over No. 11 Florida.
"We knew it was going to be a hostile environment coming in, and it lived up to it for sure," Young said. "Fans were super loud and there was a lot we had to deal with. This is a really, really good team. We just played in a really, really tough environment. It was tough, but I’m super proud of us as a team.”
During his weekly radio show on Thursday, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said the best way to handle a rowdy crowd is to get them to sit on their hands early, and it looked like that's exactly what Alabama was on the way to doing.
Young had little issue carving up the Florida defense in the first quarter where he had three touchdowns that gave Alabama a 21-3 lead at the end of the quarter. After one quarter he was 12-16 for 138 yards with the touchdown passes to Jase McClellan, Brian Robinson Jr. and Jahleel Billingsley.
The young quarterback showed his poise in the pocket during the first road start of his career. All three touchdowns came with extreme pressure by the Gator defensive line. He withstood the duress and was able to find open receivers who then handled the rest on the way to the end zone.
But then things significantly slowed down for the Crimson Tide offense in the second quarter. In fact, they didn't just slow down. They basically stopped. Alabama went three possessions in a row without a first down, and Young was just 1-5 for seven yards.
"I thought offensively, other than those three three-and-outs in the second quarter, we did a good job of moving the football," Saban said. "We didn’t always score a touchdown, but I think when you control the tempo of the game on offense and even when you move the ball and control the clock, keep the defense off the field, those are important things when you’re playing good teams.”
Alabama and Florida alternated long scoring drives in the second half including a 14-play 6:04 drive for the Crimson Tide that ended in a field goal but was ultimately enough for the win.
Other than the crucial stop by the defense on the two-point attempt by Florida, perhaps the most pivotal point in the game was Alabama's last possession of the game.
With 3:10 in the game, the Crimson Tide got the ball back with a two point lead. At this point, the crowd in the Swamp was absolutely raucous. Young and the Alabama offense essentially needed one first down to seal the game.
While he did not attempt a pass on that drive, Young did have to deal with an unusual factor during an already extreme high pressure situation for a new quarterback. The game clock in the stadium stopped working and was being kept by the officials on the field.
The staff had to let the quarterback know from the sideline when the clock was running which complicated things quite a bit according to Saban.
"That’s really something we can’t control," Young said. "That’s an external factor. That was just something we had to manage. We knew the situation – they were keeping the time on the field when the clock wasn’t working. It’s just another piece of adversity."
Behind the offensive line and the strong legs of Robinson Jr. , Alabama did earn the first down and eventually the win.
Being the Alabama quarterback is a pressure-packed position to be in. There's not doubt about that. Saturday's trip to the Swamp was just one of many tests that Young will face in this role. It was far from a perfect performance, but Saban seems pleased with the trajectory his quarterback is on.
"I think Bryce did a really good job," Saban said. "I think he was very composed. It was a difficult circumstance and situation to play in, but I thought he managed the game really well, made some really, really good decisions for the most part."
Through three games, Young has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions, joining Mac Jones as the only Alabama quarterback with 10 touchdown passes in his first three starts.