GAINESVILLE, Fla. | It took a while for the University of Alabama's pass defense to establish itself, but after some early struggles that provided Florida with a first-quarter lead, the Crimson Tide's highly regarded secondary began to look as effective as it has all season in Saturday's 38-10 Alabama road win.
Florida exploded through the air to open the game with a 65-yard touchdown catch by Andre Debose on the Gators' opening play. Debose beat cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on the play to open a 7-0 lead for the home team just 19 seconds into the game. Following a week of media reports critical of the Gators' ability to complete the deep pass, UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis showed it could be done in the strongest, and quickest, possible terms.
Florida's passing effectiveness didn't sustain itself much beyond the first quarter, however.
"In the beginning of the game we were a little bit too hyped up, made some mistakes defensively, but it shows the resiliency of our team to give up a (long) touchdown and from that time on play the way we played," UA coach Nick Saban said.
UF quarterback John Brantley completed 5 of 7 passes for 115 yards in the first quarter, converting third downs through the air and keeping the UA secondary guessing.
And when Alabama began to solve Brantley, it was plays by the Crimson Tide's pass rush that began to make it happen. Alabama's early pass defense took a turn for the better when Brantley threw an interception to linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who returned it 45 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 Alabama lead. Upshaw wasn't even in pass coverage on the play - he was rushing the quarterback as usual. But when his effort to get past the offensive line failed, he cut across Brantley's field of vision and found himself directly in the passing lane.
"We were running a stunt. I was locked on the guard trying to get to the quarterback, basically just pass-rushing," Upshaw said. "He had pressure, he had to get rid of it, and it just fell in my lap."
Nose guard Josh Chapman said UA entered the game expecting plenty of screen passes.
"Courtney was right there," Chapman said.
Chapman broke up a first-half Brantley pass with some pressure up the middle, and the secondary picked up pass breakups from Mark Barron and Will Lowery.
"One thing we wanted to do coming into the ballgame was affect the quarterback,"
Chapman said. "Once we get the quarterback looking at the rush, that's when you start getting more sacks. And it's fun getting sacks. That's something we worked on all week."
The biggest blow to Florida's passing attack came on a sack by Upshaw near the end of the first half. The play not only put UF out of easy field-goal range, but it also resulted in an injury to Brantley, who did not return in the second half. UF coach Will Muschamp did not have a definitive update on Brantley's condition after the game.
Freshman Jeff Driskel handled snaps for the Gators for the remainder of the game and struggled to move the UF offense, going 2 of 6 for 14 yards passing.
Brantley went 11 of 16 for 190 yards.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.
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