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Crimson Tide defense allows little

Florida fails to get its running game going, which, in turn, limits the passing game.

By JIMMY DeBUTTS
Published October 2, 2005


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Taking the pitch from the punter, Earl Everett sprinted 32 yards for a first down.

It was Florida's longest run during a 31-3 loss at Alabama on Saturday. With the one carry, Everett was the Gators' second-leading rusher. He is Florida's starting weakside linebacker.

The Crimson Tide defense gave third-year coach Mike Shula his signature victory. By suffocating No.5 Florida's ground attack, No.15 Alabama dictated the Gators' offensive options.

A power running game was exchanged for gimmicks and misdirection. Quarterback Chris Leak ran the option. The SEC's leading receiver, Chad Jackson, ran reverses and took option pitches.

"We take advantage of the plays we have," said Leak, who rushed seven times for 2 yards. "We didn't do a good job of executing our plays. Alabama played great."

Everett's first-quarter run, on a fake punt, was the Gators' offensive highlight and produced their initial first down (10 minutes into the game). It illustrated Alabama's defensive dominance.

DeShawn Wynn was limited to 14 yards on nine first-half carries after entering at 4.5 yards per carry. Wynn led the Gators with 47 rushing yards, but 22 came in the fourth quarter with Alabama leading 31-3.

Leak was sacked on the game's first play, foreshadowing the Gators' meltdown. In its first three series, Florida lost a combined 14 yards. The third series ended when Chris Harris intercepted a Leak pass and returned it 14 yards to the Florida 2.

With Alabama leading 17-0 a little more than nine minutes into the game, the Gators had only 7 rushing yards on five carries.

"No running game at all," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "The first few series were the trigger that set the tone. We did not execute the first three series."

An anemic ground game sabotaged the Gators' passing attack. Forced into obvious passing situations, Leak could not consistently string completions together. The junior was intercepted twice and sacked four times. In the first quarter, he completed 1 of 7 passes for 1 yard.

Trying to jump-start the offense in the second quarter, Meyer moved Leak to split end. Two designed runs for Leak late in the first quarter went for seven and 13 yards.

Ultimately, those runs proved insignificant after the Gators could not convert on first and goal at the 1. On fourth down, Mark Anderson and Freddie Roach converged on Wynn just outside the goal line.

After clamping down on Wynn, Alabama's defense put the squeeze on Jackson. The Hoover, Ala., native ran the ball three times for 13 yards and was limited to eight catches for 50 yards. He entered leading the SEC in receptions (eight per game) and yards (100.2), but his longest reception was 15 yards.

Leak credited Alabama's defense for making momentum-shifting plays and said the Gators assisted with a critical interception and lackluster offensive performance.

"They did a great job preparing," Leak said. "They made those big plays when they needed to.

"(Turnovers) are things we can't have especially pinned down deep on our side of the field."