After Early Errors, Alabama Blows Past Florida In SEC Opener
Before Alabama could even think about beating Florida Saturday, it needed to overcome itself. Fortunately for them, a near record-breaking performance from its quarterback helped make that happen.
Largely behind the arm of Blake Sims, the third-ranked Crimson Tide was able to move past an uncharacteristically high number of committed penalties and turnovers to get by the Gators, 42-21, in its Southeastern Conference opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Sims finished the game with 445 passing yards -- the second-highest single-game total in Alabama's illustrious history -- and four touchdowns on 23-of-33 passing. In the first quarter alone, he had 272 yards -- surpassing his previous career-high of 250 yards set in the season opener against West Virginia -- and by the half, he had 335 -- second most behind Greg McElroy's 339 yards in the first half against Auburn in 2010.
"When Blake takes what the defense gives, he’s instinctive and he makes good plays and decisions," Saban said. "People have to respect him as a passer now. He has made too many good throws for people to not respect him as a passer. He’s done a really good job for us."
Alabama turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles in its first six drives of the game, all coming on its own side of the field. Florida capitalized on the short-field opportunities three of the four times with touchdowns. The Crimson Tide's second fumble was returned 49 yards for a score by defensive back Keanu Neal, giving the Gators a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
Alabama also totaled 80 penalty yards on 11 flags.
"We to clean those negative plays up: the penalties, missed assignments, turnovers – which I think are all correctable – and be more consistent in our ability to execute," Saban said. "I think that’s a lot easier to do when you eliminate negative plays."
But on the times Alabama did execute, it came easily.
Of Sims four touchdown passes two came on one-play drives. On both of those two scoring plays -- an 87-yard pass to Kenyan Drake and a 79-yard pass to Amari Cooper -- the receiver was wide open downfield. Drake's touchdown came on Alabama's first offensive play of the game.
"The guys were just at the right spot at the right time, and doing what the coaches have taught them," Sims said. "We just believe in our coaches and believe in one another."
Alabama compiled 645 total yards of offense, the most yards Florida has ever allowed. The Crimson Tide has gone over 500 yards in all four games of its games this season, including more than 600 yards twice.
"I’m really proud of the way our guys overcame adversity in this game," Saban said. "I wish we didn’t do the bad things but we did them, we hung in there and we played the next play. We eventually got control of the game, which speaks a lot about the competitive nature that the players have. They just kept hanging in there."
Adding to the penalty and turnover issues, Sims took a hard hit late in the third quarter that injured his shoulder and forced him to the sidelines and into the locker room with Alabama leading 28-21. He returned without any apparent limitations on the next drive.
"We were concerned if he would be able to throw the ball, but he settled down to where he could throw it OK," Saban said.
On his first drive back from injury, he connected with Cooper on a 4-yard touchdown to cap off the game's scoring.
Cooper caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns to bring his season total to 43 catches, 655 yards and five touchdowns. His second touchdown against the Gators came on a 6-yard pass from Jake Coker on the possession Sims went out with injury.
"(Cooper) was very impressive," Sims said. "He put on a good show for everybody today."
Defensively, Alabama held Florida to just 200 yards offensively. Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel was limited to 93 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and running backs Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor had 37 and 11 yards, respectively.
After Driskel tied the game at 21-21 on a 14-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, Alabama dominated possession and scored 21 unanswered points.
"We didn’t make the plays when they were there," Driskel said. "We didn’t play well enough to win against a good team."
Alabama now has two weeks to prepare for its top-10 showdown against Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi on Oct. 4.