Blake Sims, the senior quarterback who has surprised everyone outside of the Alabama program and no one inside it, threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns, and his head coach praised that.
But Alabama coughed up the ball four times and allowed a team with a listless offense to score three touchdowns. The Crimson Tide committed 11 penalties for 80 yards, an uncharacteristic display of mistakes. That's why a game that had no business being close remained in doubt late into the third quarter, before Alabama pulled away to a 42-21 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
In other words, people, Alabama won the game but lost "the process."
The process is shorthand for Saban's coaching. It combines outlandish physical talent with a watchmaker's precision. The Crimson Tide had a lot of the former and not enough of the latter, which led to Saban debating himself throughout his postgame press conference.
"Obviously, everybody that watched the game could tell that there were some things that we did extremely well and some things were pretty sloppy," Saban said.
Saban regards sloppiness as the devil's playground, somewhere between a character deficiency and leprosy. Particularly in the first half, Alabama couldn't have looked less like a Saban-coached team if it had come out in the single-wing. Or leather helmets. Or orange and blue.
"I felt we could have had 900 yards," Alabama offensive tackle Austin Shepherd said. "Just minor things that we've got to fix, uncharacteristic things of us."
Take the penalties. Alabama had three false starts and two snap infractions.
"All of it is game management and execution." Saban said, "We're second-and-1 at the 1, and the quarterback calls the wrong cadence. Everybody might think that, 'Hey, the offensive line messed up.' That's the kind of stuff that we have to be consistent and trust in and believe in and do the right way. It's attention to detail. We've had far too many of those this year, and we've got to get it corrected."
Saban stopped and moved to the other podium in his internal debate.
"But there's also been a tremendous amount of production offensively this year ..."
Saban hired Lane Kiffin because he believed in the controversial coach's ability to run an offense. On Alabama's first play from scrimmage at the Tide's 13-yard line, Kiffin shifted tailback Kenyan Drake
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAmari Cooper's three touchdowns gave him 20 receiving TDs in his career, a school record.
Alabama beat Florida 42-21 Saturday in its SEC opener and did so with an uncharacteristically dominant passing attack. We tell you what you need to know about Alabama’s awesome offense and some ignominious Florida records.
Alabama piles up yards
Alabama had 645 yards of total offense, its second-most under Nick Saban behind last season’s 668 yards against Duke in a 48-7 win. It’s also the most ever allowed by Florida in a single game, topping the 629 allowed to Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
Blake Sims’ rare Tide QB performance
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw for 445 yards, the second Alabama quarterback to ever top 400 yards in a game. The school record is held by Scott Hunter, who threw for 484 against Auburn in 1969. It’s also the third-most by an opponent against the Gators and most since Peyton Manning threw for 492 yards in 1996. Sims threw four touchdown passes, the fifth Alabama quarterback to do so.
Amari Cooper sets school record
Amari Cooper’s three receiving touchdowns helped him set the school record for most career touchdown receptions with 20. Cooper became just the fourth Alabama player to have 200 receiving yards in a single game. This leaves him just 532 yards shy of tying DJ Hall’s school record for most receiving yards in a career (2,923). Cooper has 655 yards receiving this season, more than halfway to the school single-season record of 1,133 set by Hall in 2010.
Is Cooper the next Julio Jones?
Cooper has more receptions, receiving yards, 100-yard receiving games and touchdowns through the first 29 games of his career at Alabama than Julio Jones. Jones would finish his Alabama career with 179 catches, 2,653 yards and 15 TD.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Blake Sims recorded Alabama's second-best passing day with 445 yards and the third-ranked Crimson Tide overcame a sloppy performance to beat Florida 42-21 on Saturday.
The Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) committed four turnovers that turned into 21 points for the Gators (2-1, 1-1), who still couldn't handle the Sims-to-Amari Cooper connection.
Sims threw touchdown passes of 87 yards to Kenyan Drake on the opening play and 79 to Cooper later in the first quarter. Cooper, who came in leading the nation in receptions, caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
The Tide's turnovers and other miscues kept the game close into the fourth quarter. Alabama's 645 total yards was the most the Gators have allowed.
Florida's Jeff Driskel was harassed and ineffective passing. He was 9-of-28 passing for 93 yards and was intercepted twice while the offense produced just 200 yards.
It was over when: The Gators had no answer for Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense in the second half, and the clincher came early in the fourth quarter when Tide safety Landon Collins intercepted Jeff Driskel on third and long. It was Driskel’s second pick of the game, and Alabama turned it into seven points on a TD pass to Cooper, extending the lead to 21 points.
Game ball goes to: It’s not hard not to give it to Blake Sims, who answered the critics with Saturday’s performance, but Cooper was simply uncoverable. The junior finished with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. It didn’t matter which Alabama quarterback was throwing him the ball. If Cooper wasn’t at or near the top of the Heisman Trophy watch before this week, he will be now.
Stat of the game: Think Sims was good? How about this stat? Sims accounted for 457 total yards, second-most in Alabama history, and the most since Scott Hunter’s 484 yards in 1969. The Tide quarterback finished 23-of-33 for 445 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and he added 12 yards on the ground. He wasn’t perfect, fumbling once and throwing an interception on a tipped pass, but he was darn near close.
What it means: After the first three games, nobody really knew how good Sims and this offense could be. How would they fare against a historically strong SEC defense? That question was answered and then some Saturday. The Tide finished with 648 yards of offense, and Sims put an end to any quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa. For Florida, the defense just ran out of gas in the second half, but the bigger concern is with Driskel, who finished 7-of-25 for 80 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If the Gators expect to compete in the SEC East, they must have better quarterback play.
Meyer was suffering from chest pains and self-medicating for his stress.
"Now I'm taking two Ambiens," Meyer told the HBO show. "I would drink a beer on top of it, just to get some sleep. Not many people know that.
"And I go from 217 pounds to 180 pounds. I lose 37 pounds."
That all occurred when the Gators were undefeated in 2009 -- until losing to Alabama in the SEC title game.
After the loss to the Crimson Tide, Meyer was admitted into a hospital with chest pains.
"They said, 'We don't believe it was a heart attack.' " Meyer said. "So, OK, 'Well, what is it?' 'We don't know.'
"And then you start thinking, 'There's something wrong with me mentally, you know? What is going on here?' "
Meyer said he was depressed.
"I thought I was dying," Meyer said. "Mentally, I was broke."
Meyer said after Florida won the national title after the 2008 season he didn't -- and couldn't -- enjoy the victory. He began recruiting literally minutes after the 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS title game in Miami ended.
"I was in a panic situation," Meyer said. "We just won it. We got to do it again. I close the door. And I started just recruiting. One of my friends came and said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Enjoy, what's wrong with you, man? Enjoy this.' I tried."
Well, at least one Florida fan in Tuscaloosa for Saturday's UF-Bama game is not letting the Tide fans steal all of the spotlight.
Troy at No. 13 Georgia, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a 38-35 loss at South Carolina and is looking for a resounding victory here. The last time these teams met (2007), Georgia won 44-34. This Troy team, however, is 0-3 and allowing 40 points per game while averaging only 20.7. Look for the Bulldogs to jump out early in this one.
3:30 p.m. ET
No. 6 Texas A&M at SMU, ABC/ESPN2: The Aggies come in at 3-0 and they’ve been rolling so far this season. SMU has been a mess, 0-2 and with a new coach: June Jones resigned last week; Tom Mason is serving as the interim head coach and is making his debut. Perhaps the Mustangs are fired up and have a renewed energy, but even if they do, the Aggies are in position for a convincing victory. These teams' past three meetings, dating to 2011, have resulted in a 35.3-point average margin of victory for A&M.
4 p.m. ET
Indiana at No. 18 Missouri, SEC Network: The Tigers are quietly getting it done and look to close out their nonconference schedule 4-0. If they do, it would be the eighth 4-0 start under Gary Pinkel and seventh in nine seasons. Maty Mauk is coming off a four-touchdown-pass performance and Shane Ray is coming off a two-sack, four-tackles-for-loss performance.
7 p.m. ET
Northern Illinois at Arkansas, ESPNU: A victory would give the Razorbacks as many wins this season (three) as they had in all of 2013. That would be a big step forward for Bret Bielema's crew. Northern Illinois is a quality road team, having won 17 in a row in opponents' home stadiums, including one at Northwestern on Sept. 6. Arkansas brings in a second-best-in-the-nation 362 rushing yards per game.
Mississippi State at No. 8 LSU, ESPN: Saturday nights in Death Valley are always fun -- typically for the Tigers. They're 43-2 under Les Miles in Saturday night games at Tiger Stadium. This is a big "prove-it" game for Mississippi State, a team that's 3-0 and trying to take a big step into SEC West contention. Last year's meeting between these two was competitive until a 28-point fourth quarter by LSU.
7:30 p.m. ET
No. 14 South Carolina at Vanderbilt, SEC Network: The Gamecocks got a huge win versus Georgia and are looking to go to 2-1 in league play with a victory here. South Carolina jumped out to a big lead over Vandy the last time these teams met and it's likely to happen again if the Commodores don't get on track quickly. They've struggled mightily out of the gate and had to rally to beat UMass last week. Patton Robinette will start at QB; will coach Derek Mason stick with him this time?
Finally, the game is almost here.
For both Alabama and Florida, it's been a long time coming. The Crimson Tide breezed through the nonconference portion of their schedule to get here. The Gators missed their season-opener, gassed Eastern Michigan and survived Kentucky to reach its trip to Tuscaloosa undefeated and eager to prove that last season was a fluke.
What do we know about both teams so far? Not a lot. But that's what Saturday is for.
To get you prepared, we had SEC writers Jeff Barlis and Alex Scarborough assess the matchup.
Scarborough: Let's start with the pretty boys.
I could tell you Blake Sims is a changed man. I could tell you he's transformed overnight into a quarterback capable of carrying an offense against a good defense like Florida's. But I might be stretching the truth.
So what happens when Vernon Hargreaves III takes away those quick passes that have been so effective? What happens when Dante Fowler rushes off the edge? What happens when Sims gets in the weeds?
Frankly, I don't know.
But I do know this: I trust him more than I do Jeff Driskel.
Barlis: There's no doubt Driskel's performance against Kentucky undermined some of the optimism that had grown for him and for the Gators. He failed to recognize obvious blitzers, didn't run the ball when he needed to, didn't give his receivers a chance at catching the deep ball, and hesitated to hit an open Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown on what could have been a crushing mistake in overtime.
Driskel's numbers -- 25-of-43 passing for 295 yards, three touchdowns and an interception -- weren't bad, though, and he deserves credit for some key plays that helped Florida stave off a colossal upset.
I don't think anyone is expecting Driskel to brilliantly engineer an upset of his own this Saturday, but he can't afford the kind of big mistakes that have plagued him in the past. He just needs to be efficient, manage the game and give his team a chance.
It's not all on Driskel's shoulders. I think one of the biggest matchups of this game will be in the trenches when Florida has the ball. The Gators' offensive line has been a sore spot, particularly in pass protection, for the last couple of years.
Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) is out, and while senior right tackle Chaz Green is a capable fill-in, his understudy is Roderick Johnson, a redshirt freshman making his second start in the third game of his career. He's never seen anything like the No. 3 Tide and it's stable of defensive linemen.
Scarborough: That's an interesting point. Alabama's D-line has been solid so far, but hasn't lived up to the preseason hype yet. A'Shawn Robinson, the All-SEC tackle/end, has no sacks and only half a tackle for loss. He's got help rushing the passer with Ryan Anderson, Xavier Dickson and Jonathan Allen, but that group can't allow Driskel time in the pocket.
If that happens, watch out for Alabama's secondary. Nick Perry will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting, and Jarrick Williams isn't likely to play after fracturing his foot a few weeks ago. Those are two of the Tide's most veteran DBs.
Landon Collins is as solid as they come at safety, but he'll need help. Eddie Jackson's return has been a boon, but pay attention to rookie Tony Brown, whom Nick Saban said will play a lot on Saturday.
Still, my biggest question mark for Alabama isn't on defense. Setting aside Sims' play at quarterback, who is going to step up besides Cooper? O.J. Howard hasn't caught a pass all season and Christion Jones has dropped a few passes himself.
While there are a lot of talented tailbacks to turn to, I'll be interested to see how Alabama's receivers and Florida's defensive backs match up.
Barlis: I will, too. These are two of the best run defenses in the SEC if not the country. Although both teams are inexperienced in the defensive backfield, neither passing game has more than one scary playmaker -- Cooper for the Tide, and Robinson for the Gators.
It appears both defenses will be in a similar situation -- apply consistent pressure on the quarterback or else a vulnerable secondary could be exposed. Florida's D-line was strong in the first half against UK but fatigued in the second when Patrick Towles went off. That made the mistakes by young DBs even more glaring.
I say the matchup the matters most on Saturday is Florida's defensive line against Alabama's offensive line. The Gators desperately need someone other than Dante Fowler Jr. to emerge, but I'm not sure this is the game for that to happen. Bama has an outstanding line that has keyed a deadly efficient offense. The Tide have just two three-and-outs in 32 possessions this season.
The bottom line in what could very well be a defensive struggle is that both teams prefer to run the ball but probably won't be able to dominate the game that way. It'll be up to the passing attacks.
I'm not sure Florida is quite ready to play with enough tempo to affect Alabama's defense. So whichever line keeps its quarterback the cleanest will win this game, and it will be closer than many folks think.
QB Driskel will make Gator nation proud
12:00 PM ET Florida Tennessee 12:00 PM ET 6 Texas A&M 12 Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET 3 Alabama 11 Ole Miss 4:00 PM ET Vanderbilt 13 Georgia 7:00 PM ET 15 LSU 5 Auburn 7:30 PM ET South Carolina Kentucky