GAINESVILLE, Fla. | Stop the Chris Rainey-Jeff Demps duo, stop the Florida offense.
That was the book on defending the Gators entering play Saturday night, and the University of Alabama did exactly that. In a 38-10 Alabama win, the Crimson Tide held one of the conference's most dynamic rushing duos to just 1 net yard in the first half.
But initially, it appeared the book was being rewritten.
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Florida's offense scored 10 early points with no assistance from Rainey or Demps. Quarterback Jeff Brantley looked sharp early in the game, connecting on a deep touchdown pass to Andre Debose on the opening play and converting third downs to several wide receivers in the first quarter. Debose nearly pulled in yet another touchdown pass on a play that was overturned on replay because Debose juggled a reception as he went out of bounds in the back of the end zone.
Once Alabama began to contain the UF passing attack, however, the Gators were left with few offensive options. And it became increasingly clear that Rainey and Demps would not be two of them.
"We did a good job of not letting their running backs outflank us," UA coach Nick Saban said. "If you miss one tackle on those guys, they can be out the gate."
Linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who played one of his best games of the 2010 season against Florida, gave the Gators more offensive headaches Saturday night. He threw Rainey for a loss of 7 yards on one first-half play and dropped Rainey for a loss of 4 in the third quarter. Weakside linebacker Nico Johnson was also effective against the run in replacing the injured C.J. Mosley.
Rainey fumbled on his first carry.
Demps appeared to be injured after being tackled by UA kicker Cade Foster on a first-quarter kickoff return and was on the sideline for the Gators' subsequent drive that resulted in a field goal. Demps returned to the UF offense but was withheld from the kickoff return team thereafter.
The biggest play of the first half for Rainey came on a 25-yard reception on which he broke two tackles and set up UF with a first down on the UA 15. After just a 2-yard rush by Rainey, however, Alabama put UF out of field goal range with two consecutive sacks.
After Demps and Rainey combined for more than 700 yards rushing through Florida's first four games, Saturday showed that success wasn't meant to continue against Alabama's defense, the top-ranked unit in the Southeastern Conference. The second-half deficit Florida faced played a role in that as well. Behind by two touchdowns, the Gators were forced to lean more on a passing attack that was rendered less effective when Brantley was injured just before the half.
In three previous meetings against Alabama, the Rainey-Demps pair never fared especially well, either. Two of those came in SEC Championship games, and last year Alabama's defense stemmed the Gators rushing attack in a 31-6 win in Tuscaloosa. Rainey was suspended for that game, while Demps was largely ineffective.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.