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No. 1 Alabama survives No. 9 Florida, 31-29, in SEC opener at The Swamp

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/18/2021 Dan Wolken, USA TODAY
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Alabama is still undefeated, but perhaps not quite as invincible. 

Despite a fast start at No. 9 Florida that made it seem like the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide would cruise through first SEC game of the season, it took their offense converting a first down in the final couple minutes to finally secure a 31-29 victory on Saturday in Gainesville. 

Alabama took an early 21-3 lead after their first three possessions but seemed to lose a bit of focus in the second quarter, allowing the Gators enough of an opportunity to work their way back in the game. 

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By the second half, Florida had figured out Alabama’s defense, generating a tremendous push with their offensive line and keeping the Crimson Tide off balance with quarterback Emory Jones’ ability to run and throw. Florida scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions, including a 99-yard drive, to put significant pressure on Alabama and first-year starting quarterback Bryce Young.

But after scoring with 3:10 remaining to pull within two, Florida failed to convert the two-point conversion when Alabama snuffed out a slow-developing handoff up the middle. That meant Florida, with two timeouts remaining, needed to get an immediate stop to get the ball back with enough time for a comeback.

Instead, Alabama got a first down, ran more clock and then punted, leaving Florida with just four seconds left and 77 yards to go. Alabama’s defense swarmed Jones, who had nobody to throw to and never got a pass away. 

In many ways, this was a missed opportunity for Florida, which out-gained Alabama 440-331 yards and had 26 first downs. 

But Alabama took advantage of some small miscues, including a first-quarter interception by Jones that gave the Crimson Tide a short field and a missed extra point on Florida’s first touchdown. The Gators also committed three pass interference penalties on third downs.

Alabama did come up with one clutch drive in the third quarter when Young led the offense to a touchdown after 13 plays and 75 yards, converting four third downs along the way and scoring on a fourth-down play near the goal line. That gave the Crimson Tide some breathing room at 28-16. 

But 3-0 Alabama, which gave up 245 rushing yards on 43 carries, leaves with some questions about whether its defense might be a weakness on its way to another potential national championship. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: No. 1 Alabama survives No. 9 Florida, 31-29, in SEC opener at The Swamp

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