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Rolled over

The Crimson Tide takes a big lead early in the game to hand the Gators their first loss.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 2, 2005


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Coldcocked.

It's the best way to describe the beat down No.15 Alabama put on No.5 Florida on Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Alabama scored a knockdown 3:33 into the game with an 87-yard touchdown pass from Brodie Croyle to Tyrone Prothro.

Florida was down for the count by halftime.

Final score: Alabama 31, Florida 3.

The reality?

It was much, much worse for the Gators. They couldn't run. They couldn't pass. Their man-to-man coverage was a bust.

"We got beat by a team that was better prepared," Florida coach Urban Meyer said, adding the first line of blame goes to the coaching staff.

"Pass defense has been one of our strengths, but (Saturday), it wasn't. We are a man coverage team, and we were exposed. We lost a lot of one-on-one battles."

The Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) came into Tuscaloosa believing their offense was finally on track. They went back to Gainesville with more questions than when the season began.

"We've got to go back to the basics," Meyer said. "We thought we had a lot of this worked out, but obviously, there's still work to go."

It was Florida's fewest points since a 45-3 loss to Tennessee in 1990 and worst loss since 36-7 to LSU in 2002. And it snapped Meyer's personal 20-game win streak. It was also the worst loss of Meyer's coaching career, surpassing 29-7 to USF when he was at Bowling Green.

The most exciting offense in the SEC was supposed to be Florida's, but the Gator defenders should make a case for Croyle (14-of-17 for 283 yards) and Alabama's receivers.

Alabama (5-0, 3-0) played like nobody the Gators had seen all season, and it showed in nearly every phase of the game. Quarterback Chris Leak passed for just 187 yards, and the rushing game was abysmal, gaining 139 yards with much of that coming when the game was out of hand.

"You've got to give Alabama credit," Leak said. "It's a great team. They came out and prepared well, and they took advantage of the opportunities they had. We didn't come out and execute the way we're capable of."

The offensive line allowed four sacks, and Leak was under pressure for much of the game. Tackles Tavares Washington and Jim Tartt left the game with injuries. Their status is unknown.

"It just seems like everything is kind of caving in for us right now," center Mike Degory said.

And Florida's much heralded defense, which came into the game ranked No.5 in the nation and first in the SEC, was shredded, giving up 407 yards.

"Our back was against the wall the whole game, and they took advantage of that," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "All we need to do is work harder, correct some mistakes made, and hopefully, we'll see them again. This hurts bad. We should have won."

The way things went, Florida had about five minutes in which it seemed to have a chance. It trailed 10-0 5:15 into the game after it bumbled through its opening possession with a sack/fumble (which it recovered), 1-yard run and an incomplete pass: 3 plays, minus-14 yards.

On the ensuing possession, Alabama fumbled the punt, and Florida recovered. But the Gators again did nothing: 3 plays, zero yards.

That came after the 87-yard touchdown pass on Alabama's first play of the game.

"That was important to get that jump on them so we could have the momentum," Alabama coach Mike Shula said.

"The first three series were the trigger. They kind of set the tone," Meyer said. "We self-destructed after that."

Arguably, the final blow of the game for the Gators came seven seconds into the second quarter.

Trailing by 10, Florida put together a 10-play drive and seemed poised to get itself back into the game. On fourth and 1, DeShawn Wynn charged up the middle. But just as he was about to fall into the end zone, linebacker Freddie Roach hit Wynn, stopping his forward progress.

"We knew who was going to get the ball," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We knew exactly where they were going. We'd see it over and over on film. Freddie stepped up and made a great hit that finished him off."

And Florida's chances for a comeback.

Saturday's game was the first time Alabama had defeated a Top 5 team since Florida 34-7 in the SEC Championship in 1999.

But this was much different for the Tide. Three years after being hit with scholarship cuts and probation, Alabama was looking for a "signature" win, something to signal it was back.

They got it at the Gators' expense.