So close, yet so far.
On Saturday, the Florida Gators played host the Alabama Crimson Tide in The Swamp for a top-25 bout to kick off the SEC portion of each team's schedule.
Putting together an encouraging performance for the most part, Florida stayed within striking distance for the majority of the contest and had a chance to win the game on the final possession.
Despite falling short in the end, the Gators proved themselves to be a legitimate contender in college football and exposed the towering Tide as a team that can be beaten.
Looking to build off the performance going forward, UF will be at home once again against Tennessee next weekend.
But let’s not look ahead.
To recap Florida near-upset over Alabama, AllGators presents the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday.
Good: Only two points away from topping the nation’s No. 1 team
Moral victories can often be criticized, and rightfully so. However, in a matchup as 15-point underdogs to the best team in college football, the Gators played up to their competition.
Relying on the rushing game offensively, Florida proved that their first two weeks were no fluke.
Churning out 245 yards on the ground — led by a three-headed monster consisting of Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright — Florida made a statement that they can run the football against the best of the best in college football.
All three backs played significant roles in their overall efficiency running the football and showed that the Gators have numerous options to use for the rest of the season.
A great start to what should be a decent year ahead.
Despite the loss, the Gators outgained the Tide in yards on the ground and overall for the game, 440 to 331.
Flipping sides to the defense, UF — while allowing a plethora of points early on — they rebounded well to adequately halt the Tide in quarters two through four.
Allowing just ten points in that span, the defense stood tall in the face of adversity, challenging a usually hard-nosed unit to a point where they failed to reach the century mark in yards on the ground with just 91 on 28 carries.
While a win would have put a cherry on top of an otherwise noteworthy performance, Florida will build off the momentum of going toe to toe with the Alabama dynasty.
Bad: Special teams
An extra point was the difference.
In a game against the unrivaled top team in college football, execution in all facets of the game from start to finish was going to be the deciding factor.
Showing imperfection in all three phases of the game at points, the Gators overcame their struggles on offense and defense to nearly come back from a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter.
What they couldn’t overcome was the missed extra point on their first touchdown of the contest.
On their second drive of the second quarter, Florida trailed heavily and was losing the lively environment that provided multiple communication errors for Alabama early on. Going 79 yards in just six plays, the Gators punched in their first touchdown of the day, reigniting the fire of 90,000-plus.
Trotting the kicking unit onto the field in the midst of pandemonium in the stands, the Gators ran through their routine post-touchdown practice. This time though, placekicker Chris Howard pushed the 20-yard attempt right of the uprights, to the surprise of many following the return from the heights of excitement felt when Malik Davis battled his way in for the score.
With one point left on the scoreboard, Florida revisited the miss later in the contest following another inspired scoring drive, pulling within two of the Crimson Tide, 31-29.
Attempting a read-option from the three-yard line for their two-point conversion, Jones would hold onto the ball too long, ultimately being stuffed behind a bevy of Bama defenders about a yard short.
Being the difference between overtime and another failed last-second attempt at dethroning the almighty Tide, the Gators mishap will be considered a “What If” for the remainder of the season.
However, that isn’t the only time that the third phase of UF’s game aligned the Gators in an unfavorable territory.
Following Bama’s lone touchdown of the final three quarters, Florida receiver Ja’Markis Weston was back to receive the kickoff. Attempting to haul in the end-over-end kick, Weston would muff the kick and watch it roll out of bounds at the one-yard line.
By rule, the ball was still live and the Gators would be forced to take over their drive as deep in their own territory as they could get. Orchestrating an impressive scoring drive, Jones would rid Weston of any blame for a possible game-changing lapse in judgment in the end.
However, it brings concerns for the future and a weakness for schedule opponents to exploit.
Going forward, the Gators will need their special teams to be a complement to the offense and defense when each are holding their own — especially in a matchup with Georgia for the SEC East title in Jacksonville — rather than a detriment that decides the game for them.
Ugly: Slow start
For the second consecutive game against the Tide, a slow start for the Gators plagued their comeback attempts late in the game.
Struggling to stop Bryce Young and Alabama’s attack in the first quarter — then stalling on drives offensively — the 18-point deficit early on was a tough hill to climb against a team that hasn’t lost a game where the score is kept in nearly two years.
The issues started on the defensive side of the football, mainly due to their inability to bring down Alabama’s ball carriers upon first contact.
Cited to miss 14 tackles throughout the contest according to PFF — although it felt like 14 were missed in the first three drives alone — the Gators nearly matched their season total of 15 in their previous two games.
Picking up the pace following the first quarter, the Gators would put themselves in a position to win down the stretch, but ultimately fell short as time expired yet again.
If the “revenge tour” — as many Gators coined it following the conclusion of the game — culminates in a rematch in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, Florida will need to come out of the gates hot to avoid another heartbreaking last-second loss.
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