GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While the first quarter was an impressive showing by both the Alabama offense and defense, the Crimson Tide was outscored 26-10 for the remainder of the game. In front of the fifth-largest crowd in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium history, the Crimson Tide was not at its sharpest.
While Alabama ultimately held off Florida for a 31-29, the Gators led the game in offensive yards with 439 compared to the Crimson Tide's 324. On top of that, the crowd noise forced a lot of miscommunication on the Alabama offense, resulting in a delay of game, a substitution infraction and four false starts over the course of the game.
"Tough place to play," Alabama coach Nick Saban said after the game. "I thought Bryce did a really good job of managing the crowd noise. There were times when it gave us issues but it was really more of a snap-count issue than it was his doing. So, the center had a tough time hearing a couple [of] times and we snapped the ball late and got some penalties."
Another bad stat for the Crimson Tide was on third down. On offense, Alabama was able to convert just seven of 13 attempts on third down. More disruptive to the Crimson Tide game plan was its defense, though, allowing the Gators to convert five of 12 attempts on third down.
The incredibly loud crowd made its impact on the offensive side, while the defense was not able to capitalize on a quieter atmosphere and failed to stop the Gators in several third and long situations.
There was one bright spot for Alabama, though: sophomore quarterback Bryce Young shined once again. While his numbers were less than typical for the Crimson Tide signal caller — 22-of-35 for 233 yards and three touchdowns — the first-year starter was able to maintain composure despite the harshest environment that the team has faced in quite some time.
"Crazy atmosphere," Young said. "Those fans were really loud. We knew it was going to be a hostile environment coming in and it lived up to it for sure. The fans were super loud and there was a lot we had to deal with."
All three of Young's touchdown passes came in the first quarter, with the Crimson Tide running backs making two of those three receptions. However, Young did have an easy touchdown pass dropped by a wide-open Slade Bolden in the end zone, hurting his stats but not taking away from a solid performance.
"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. We clapped some, we went on silent some, but I thought he managed the game really well [and] made some really, really good decisions for the most part."
On defense, Alabama gave up a grand total of 181 passing yards to the Gators while allowing them to rush 245 yards. Defensive back Demarcco Hellams had a solid day with 11 total tackles and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. managed two tackles for loss, but the hostile environment and poor execution prevented the team from its usual dominance.
"The crowd was a key component," Crimson Tide defensive back Jordan Battle said. "Obviously we came out strong — like in the past few games, we came out strong — but we still got some things to learn. We gotta learn how to finish but overall it was a great win."
Three games in a row now, Alabama has come out of the gate looking like the top team in the nation. However, Saturday's game in Gainesville paints a perfect picture of how the program's season has gone thus far: start out strong, dominate early, falter over the course of the game.
Florida is just the first rowdy SEC road trip on the Alabama schedule. With Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn still on the road slate, the Crimson Tide will need to improve its adjustments to atmosphere if it wants to finish the regular season 12-0.
While Saban ultimately didn't seem too upset with his team — quite the opposite, rather — he did note that Saturday's game put a lot of quirks that need tweaking on display.
"All-in-all, there's a lot to learn," Saban said. "I'm hopeful that our team can learn from this experience — learn how to improve, learn how to get better — kinda see where you are personally as a player, where we are collectively as a team, what we need to do to get better individually and improve and play with more consistency and maintain intensity as well as do the same thing as a team.
"There's a lot of good things for us to learn out there."