Bama Routs Gators

Call it what you will. The nation will see it as evidence that "Bama's Back!" And that's horrible news to most college football teams. Alabama may or may not be back–that can better be determined on several Saturdays to come–but it was obvious that the Crimson Tide has made some steps when Alabama crushed Florida, 31-3.

Alabama, ranked 15th in the nation going into the game, outplayed Florida, fifth-ranked prior to the game, in virtually every phase. The Crimson Tide, which has an open week next Saturday, ran its record to 5-0, including a 3-0 Southeastern Conference mark. The Gators, considered the favorite for the SEC Eastern Division championship after defeating Tennessee earlier this year, suffered its first loss of the year and is now 4-1 on the season and 2-1 in SEC games.

The victory did not come without cost. Tyrone Prothro, the Tide's outstanding wide receiver, was leaping for a pass in the end zone with just under nine minutes to play. Prothro, who had two touchdown receptions, including an 87-yard reception for a touchdown on Bama's first play of the game, suffered a broken leg, fractured tibia and fibula, on the play. Prothro had five receptions for 134 yards. The junior will be lost for the remainder of the season.

The game was one of the biggest in the nation, drawing national television coverage from CBS. And afterwards Bama students stayed in their seats and greeted their fellow students, Bama football players, who exited the dressing room for a brief and enthusiastic post-game celebration.

Alabama sprinted to a 17-0 first quarter lead with innovative offense and punishing defense.

It was 24-3 at halftime, and probably should have been 31-3. Prothro had what appeared to be a 64-yard punt return that was called back on what apppeared to be a missed block-in-the-back call.

Bama extended its lead to the final margin on the first drive of the second half.

Prothro had started the game with goat horns. After Bama's defense held Florida on the Gators' first series, Prothro made an unwise decision to field a punt without a fair catch with a Florida coverage man right on him. Prothro caught the punt, but then took the hit and fumbled, Alabama's first turnover since the Southern Miss game on September 10. Bama held again the got the ball at Alabama's 13-yard line.

Alabama has opened every game offensively this year with a pass play, and Saturday's was the most dramatic yet. Quarterback Brodie Croyle had good protection, Protro got half a step on the lone defender covering him, and Croyle delivered a perfect pass. Prothro caught it in full stride. Twelve seconds after the play started, Bama had a touchdown. Jamie Christensen, who made four extra points and the only field goal he attempted, made it 7-0.

Florida had come into the game with a reputation for excellent one-on-one pass coverage. The Gators had not given up a touchdown pass in six quarters before the Croyle-to-Prothro bomb. Croyle exploited Florida's man coverage all day.

Back-up defensive end Chris Harris was in on the left side for Bama on Florida's second offensive series. Harris had one of the biggest plays in his Crimson Tide career when he knocked down a pass on first down. But that play was exceeded on second down. Florida quarterback Chris Leak had a second consecutive pass batted, this time by Mark Anderson coming from right end, and Harris picked it off, running it down to the Florida two-yard line. It took three plays, but Alabama's "Jumbo Package" punched it in, Tim Castille following fullback Le'Ron McClain into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

At that point, Bama had two touchdowns on just four plays and just 1:33 time of ball possession.

Bama ran it to 17-0 on its third possession following Florida's third punt of the first quarter. Halfback Kenneth Darby had not touched the ball while Bama opened up its 14-0 lead, but was both pass receiver and runner on the scoring drive. He took a swing pass rfor 17 yards on first down and rushed over right tackle for 26 yards on second down. The march fizzled at the Florida five and the Tide settled for a 22-yard Christensen field goal.

At the end of the first quarter, Florida Coach Urban Meyer had time to think about a big decision. The Gators had the ball at Bama's one-yard line on fourth down to start the second half. The Florida braintrust decided to go for the touchdown rather than get points via a field goal. Mark Anderson and Freddie Roach held Florida running back DeShawn Wynn for no gain.

Eventually the Gators did get a field goal, a 37-yarder by Chris Hetland.

Croyle quickly doused any hopes of a Florida comeback. After the Gators kicked off out-of-bounds, it took Croyle one play to put the Tide up by 24-3. Croyle hit Keith Brown on a quick slant and Brown was much quicker than any Gators, racing 65 yards untouched.

Alabama seemed to have another touchdown with just under two minutes to play until halftime. Bama forced another Florida punt, and Prothro took it 64 yards to the end zone. But an official thought he detected a block in the back by a Bama players (videotape relays indicated otherwise, but that is not the kind of call that can be overruled by the SEC's new replay officials).

Alabama got the kickoff to start the second half and went 80 yards in seven plays. Croyle hit Le'Ron McClain for a 20-yard gain and Darby rushed 33 yards to the Florida 16 before the drive seemed to stall. Croyle missed a pass, then Castille picked up just one yard. Then Croyle connected with Prothro on a 15-yard score that made it 31-3 and made Croyle the most prolific touchdown passer in Bama history. It was his 36th.

Florida had a couple of chances to perhaps get back in the game. On a fourth-and-four at the Alabama 11, the Gators went for it. Leak's pass was good enough and Chad Jackson was past the first down marker, but Jackson–a former Alabama prep great at Hoover–dropped the ball.

Leak had not suffered an interception in 120 consecutive pass attempts before Saturday. When he tossed his second of the game, picked off by Ramzee Robinson with just under 13 minutes to play, the fat lady was clearing her throat.

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