TUSCALOOSA _ It says a lot when a team's most valuable player in a game was the punter.
Of course, that wasn't the case for the University of Alabama football team during its 31-6 dismantling of No. 7 Florida on Saturday night, rather the visiting team.
Chad Henry's career-long 75-yard punt pinned Alabama near its goal-line and when the Crimson Tide couldn't move the ball it eventually led to a field goal. Filling in for an injured teammate he kicked it and another field goal, and also had a nice tackle of Julio Jones on a punt return.
That was pretty much it for Florida, which in two appearances at Bryant-Denny Stadium under coach Urban Meyer has failed to score a single touchdown.
Here are the awards:
Play of the game: Sophomore linebacker Nico Johnson's interception in the end zone seemed to rip the heart out of the Gators. Senior linebacker Chavis Williams made the key hit to not only take tight end Gerald Christian out of the play, but also delayed tight end Jordan Reed, the intended receiver. Junior safety Mark Barron picked up Reed, but Johnson got the ball and then smartly didn't try to return the interception. Even though freshman Trey Burton threw the jump-pass, junior quarterback John Brantley completed just two his next 10 attempts for 19 yards and an interception, and Florida went into halftime down 24-3.
Player of the game: Junior defensive end Marcell Dareus and junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw were disruptive forces that took Florida's physical offensive line to task. They combined for 10 tackles, including five for a loss, two hurries, three passes broken up and a fumble recovery.
Statistic of the game: Keyed by two timely turnovers Alabama limited Florida to three points in four red-zone opportunities despite the Gators previously scoring on 15 consecutive possessions inside the 20, including 14 touchdowns. Alabama has allowed just two touchdowns in 14 red-zone possessions for 14.29 percent, which tops the nation. Second in the SEC is next week's opponent, South Carolina, which is 4-of-16 for 25 percent.
Hit of the game: While senior quarterback Greg McElroy was running for 11 yards in the second quarter, sophomore tight end Michael Williams flattened linebacker A.J. Jones. Honorable mention goes to freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley and Barron for sandwiching Brantley after he avoided getting crushed by redshirt freshman end Darrington Sentimore.
Did you notice? Here are three pretty obvious ones: 1) When Florida was lining up for fourth-and-goal from the 2 defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was jumping up and down and yelling from the sideline to watch out for the jump pass. "Trademark Florida," Johnson later said; 2) Alabama has yet to give up a touchdown in the second half this season (65-9); 3) The Crimson Tide has played its last regular-season opponent not coming off an open week.
Here are 10 other notable things from the game, with two bonus items:
Give them assists: As previously mentioned Williams helped instigate the first turnover. Sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who also had a terrific game (six tackles, two hurries and a pass broken up) and a spring in his step after losing one of his knee braces, was pressuring on sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's interception. By jumping up in front of Brantley, Dareus delayed the pass Mosley intercepted and returned 35 yards for a touchdown. On Upshaw's fumble recovery, junior nose tackle Josh Chapman disrupted things in the middle, with Brantley tripped up by his own lineman who was trying to pull and never got the ball to his running back. Incidentally, Alabama moved into the SEC lead for turnover margin at +7.
Setting up for next time? Alabama showed Florida a new look by having running backs Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram on the field together during the first red-zone visit and then shifted with Ingram going wide on the short side and Richardson in the backfield. However, just as notable was what Alabama didn't show the Gators, perhaps in case the teams play again in the SEC Championship Game. For example, it ran only once out of the pistol (Ingram for no gain midway through the fourth quarter), Richardson had no receptions, and although Richardson had the longest run, 30 yards around the left end, the Tide only rarely attacked the edges.
McElroy's day: It won't take long for coaches to talk to McElroy about avoiding unnecessary hits, as he did so at least three times even after limping earlier in the game after possibly aggravating his thigh injury. He took two sacks, the first while trying to buy time for his receiver and learned the hard way about Florida's closing speed, and had junior Darius Hanks open on the second but didn't make the throw. Overall, he completed 11 of 17 passes (64.7) percent, with just six attempts after the Tide went up 10-0. Consequently, Alabama receivers only had 67 yards after the catch, nearly half the previous season-low of 117 against Arkansas. Jones dropped a pass, McElroy was hurried twice and one was broken up by safety Will Hill. He was 2-for-3 on both third downs and in the red zone.
Explosive plays: If there's an offensive concern from the past two weeks it's the lack of big and explosive plays. Coach Nick Saban defines a big gain as a run of 16 yards or more or a pass of 21 yards or more, and an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. Alabama hasn't had a single big passing play since Duke. The Tide had four explosive plays against Florida and just two big plays, one being McElroy's 17-yard scramble. Florida had seven explosive plays (two run and five pass), and five big plays (one run, four pass). Over the past two games Alabama has had 11 explosive plays and five big plays, while the opposition recorded 17 and nine. The Gators' biggest run was the 19-yard reverse and they finished with 79 rushing yards as UA extended its string of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 39 games.
Running game: Ingram only had 12 carries and still managed two rushing touchdowns to move into second on the Tide career list (35, behind Shaun Alexander's 41), while Richardson had 10. They had 10 carries with the quarterback under center, five from the wildcat and four out of shotgun. Here's the season breakdown:
Pistol 15 carries-214 yards
Under center 12-30
Under center 14-72
Also, Williams had the sealing block on Richardson's 30-yard run, and sophomore guard Chance Warmack had key blocks on both that carry and Ingram's 6-yard touchdown, and Richardson ran through Hill on his 15-yard carry.
The second quarter: Florida executed 16 plays for just 27 yards, one interception, and was 0-for-5 on third downs (1-for-1 on fourth). When Alabama scored for the fourth time to go up 24-0, Florida had only four total first downs.
The third quarter: Alabama executed just four offensive plays for 18 yards and still managed to outscore the Gators 7-3. It's a major reason why the Tide executed 14 fewer plays against Florida (52) than Arkansas (66), and so many of the offensive numbers were sub-par.
Richardson's fumble: The play got off to a poor start when Richardson appeared to go the wrong way, ignoring a large hole on the right side. He landed on a Florida player and officials could have blown the play dead due to his lack of forward momentum, but didn't with senior safety Ahmad Black ripping the ball out. When two Florida defenders missed it Jones made the heads-up play to grab it and turn it into a 5-yard gain. Alabama went on to score its second touchdown. Both Richardson and Ingram still have only one career fumble lost.
Thrown at: What coaches will point to is the way the young cornerbacks responded. For example, after Florida receiver Deonte Thompson knocked him down at the line and made a 21-yard reception, Kirkpatrick came back and made both a terrific hard tackle on freshman Trey Burton and the first interception of a Brantley pass in 156 attempts. The Gators targeted freshman DeMarcus Milliner during their second third-quarter drive, resulting in back-to-back penalties (holding and pass interference), but he later came off a block to stop a play for no gain. The longest reception, 26 yards, was a catch out of the backfield and the 24-yard pass from their own 4 took advantage of a corner blitz. Barron, who had a game-high 11 tackles, had six balls thrown his way, with three receptions, the longest of which was for 4 yards. The umpire also got run over when Barron was covering redshirt freshman Andre Debose across the middle.
Injuries: Jones appeared to twist his left knee on the second play of the fourth quarter when being tackled by cornerback Janoris Jenkins on his final reception, a 2-yard loss on a screen. He walked off the field but did not return. Kirkpatrick appeared to cramp up when he landed awkwardly on the field goal just before halftime. He returned, but Brandon Gibson took his place on kickoff coverage.
Special teams: Richardson had two tackles in coverage and was in on a third. Jones' impressive 41-yard punt return, set up by freshman John Fulton's block, nearly matched the total numbers of yards the Gators had given up during the 2010 (23) and 2009 seasons (21) combined. A low snap didn't help freshman Cody Mandell's 26-yard punt out of the end zone. He got a great bounce on the 53-yard punt Kirkpatrick downed at the 1.
Penalties: Alabama was flagged five times. When he was called a second time for being offside, Dareus hung his head is obvious disappointment. On his near-interception Barron bobbled the ball, but still could have made the turnover had he gotten a foot down. Instead the safety slammed the ball down in front of the official and was correctly penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.