Alabama got quite the second-half scare from Florida.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide hung on for a 31-29 win at No. 11 Florida on Saturday after Florida failed to convert a game-tying two-point conversion with 3:10 to go. Florida went for the tie after Dameon Pierce's 17-yard TD run but the read-option rushing attempt went awry right away and came up a yard short.
Florida had a chance to get the ball back for one last realistic possession after kicking off to Alabama with two timeouts left. But Brian Robinson converted a first down on third and short and ended Florida's chances of a win.
The Gators got the ball back with four seconds left and 76 yards to go but Emory Jones was sacked on the final play.
The final minutes of the game were hard to watch for fans and difficult for players and coaches as the clock at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was malfunctioning. That forced officials to keep the clock on the field as Nick Saban and Dan Mullen and their players had to manage the clock by communicating with the officials.
Alabama went up 21-3 in the first quarter
The game looked like it was going to be a rout after the first quarter. Alabama was up 21-3 and Florida was helpless to do anything on offense or to stop the Crimson Tide on defense.
Things started changing in the second quarter after Florida, crazily enough, got stopped on a fourth-down conversion. Alabama had a chance to put the game away at 28-3 with a TD after getting the ball at its own 37. But the Crimson Tide went three-and-out and Florida responded with a TD to cut the deficit to two possessions.
That TD should have been worth seven points. It wasn't. Chris Howard missed the PAT — a kick that would loom large hours later.
Had that kick gone in, Florida would have been a point away from tying Alabama with 3:10 to go. Instead, the Gators had to go for two, and the ill-fated option call was doomed from the start.
Saban: 'The offense always answered the bell'
Saban said he was proud of the way his offense played despite just the 10 second-half points. Freshman QB Bryce Young was 22-of-35 passing for 240 yards and threw three touchdowns while Robinson had 15 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown.
And while the offense didn’t put up nearly as many points in the final three quarters as it did in the first, those points came after Florida scores. After the Gators cut the lead to 21-16, Alabama immediately responded with a 13-play drive to extend the lead back to 12. And after Florida scored on its next drive to cut the lead to five again, Alabama extended it eight with a field goal after a 14-play drive.
“The offense always answered the bell and I think that was the key to the game,” Saban said.
Alabama also got bailed out by multiple Florida pass interference penalties on third downs. The Gators extended three Alabama drives that way.
Florida rushes for 245 yards
Saban wasn’t too thrilled with his defense as Florida racked up 435 yards of offense. The Gators rushed 43 times for 245 yards and scored all four of its touchdowns on the ground. The rushing attack ratcheted up in the second half as Pierce scored twice and Jones also scored on a rushing touchdown.
Florida's offensive line deserves a ton of credit for the rushing performance and the way it pass blocked. The push the Alabama defensive front typically gets was absent for long stretches.
Is Alabama still the No. 1 team?
It's hard to see how Alabama falls from the top spot in the AP Top 25 on Sunday, though No. 2 Georgia could get a few more first-place votes if it clobbers South Carolina like most expect. The Crimson Tide still seem like the most well-rounded team in football and especially showed that in the first quarter even if the final 15 minutes was a white-knuckle ride that some Alabama fans have become unaccustomed to.
Florida, meanwhile, shouldn't drop too much in the rankings. The Gators entered the game 15.5-point underdogs and ended up covering that number quite easily despite the early 18-point deficit. Don't be surprised if Florida is still in the top 15 on Sunday afternoon.