When the Gators set out to Tuscaloosa for Saturday night’s game against Alabama, they were the ones setting out to make history.
Just not this kind.
Florida’s defense gave up 645 yards of total offense in a 42-21 loss to the Tide, the most in school history. It was also the most points the defense has given up since 2007.
The secondary, which has been the talk of the season, came under fire early as Blake Sims connected with Kenyan Drake for an 87-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Alabama’s drive. A questionable defensive scheme had linebacker Antonio Morrison on Drake, who blew past for the open score.
Florida was able keep regain composure and keep the contest close through the first three quarters. The Gators continued a five-game streak of forcing at least one turnover by intercepting one pass by Sims and forcing three fumbles, one of them returned by Keanu Neal for a 49-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. The four turnovers give Florida 11 through three games.
While the defense was able to get their hands on the ball, coverage schemes plagued Florida. The highlight matchup coming into this week was Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III taking Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, but defensive coordinator DJ Durkin said Wednesday the team would mix their coverage of Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with various players. Florida put Hargreaves III on Cooper, as well as playing zone coverage, which allowed Cooper to get open in between the defenders, moving the chains and racking up the yards. The preseason All-American finished with 10 receptions, 201 yards and three touchdowns.
The Gators also struggled with the run. The defensive line was unable to get a push and get in the backfield as they had in previous games, and poor tackling lead to a big day on the ground for Alabama. Derrick Henry carried the ball 20 times for 111 yards and one touchdown. The 6-3, 241 pound sophomore wore down the defense in the second half, helping Alabama go from a seven-point lead at halftime to winning the game by three touchdowns.
Head coach Will Muschamp said even with the turnovers they couldn’t get off the field defensively and were worn down by Alabama’s offense. The Tide’s time of possession was 39:16, leading to a lack of execution, which the coach took accountability for and said they’ll work on fixing next week.
“We had our opportunities, we didn’t take advantage of it,” Muschamp said. “Regardless of what the stats were, we had our opportunities, we didn’t do it.”
Florida’s defense has been known to be the heart of the football team, but struggled strategically early and physically late in the game. With SEC play underway, the Gators have a bye week next Saturday, where they’ll look to regroup before heading to Knoxville to take on Tennessee.
Going forward, Florida’s defense will look to avoid at least one thing the rest of this season: Making this kind of dubious history.