GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Bryce Young’s first collegiate road start was a rousing success, a three-touchdown performance that helped top-ranked Alabama beat No. 11 Florida 31-29 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide stopped a 2-point conversion with 3:10 left and extended its winning streak to 17, making it 32 in a row against teams from the SEC’s Eastern Division.
“I think the offense did a great job of answering the bell in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We didn’t stop them on defense. We had some long-yardage situations we didn’t execute very well, but the offense always answered the bell. I think that was the key to the game.”
“But our team needs to learn to maintain intensity throughout the game. I thought we got tired on defense. They looked a little quicker than us. We’ve got a lot of good players. We’ve just got to get them to play a little better.”
Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has won eight straight in the series, including a wild 52-46 victory in last year’s conference title game. The Gators (2-1, 0-1) fell to 0-5 against No. 1-ranked teams at Florida Field.
This one was closer than oddsmakers and just about everyone outside of Gainesville expected, with 14 ½-point underdog Florida having a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes despite playing without dynamic backup quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Coach Dan Mullen held Richardson out as a precaution because of a strained right hamstring and said he would only be available in case of an emergency.
That never became the case even though the Gators trailed 21-3 at the end of the first quarter. Young built the early advantage with TD passes to Jase McClellan, Jahleel Billingsley and Brian Robinson.
The Gators rallied, though, and were in position to pull off a shocker when Dameon Pierce went around the left end from 17 yards out, making it 31-29 in the waning minutes. But fellow running back Malik Davis was stopped short on the conversion.
Florida may have gotten a break a few minutes earlier when Alabama was flagged for a false start on fourth-and-goal at the 1. The Tide settled for a field goal and an eight-point lead. That gave the Gators a chance, and play-caller Mullen and starting quarterback Emory Jones directed a masterful drive.
It ended up not being enough, and some surely will point to a missed extra point early in the third quarter as a huge difference. Had Chris Howard made that one, the Gators seemingly would have needed another to knot the game down the stretch.
The Gators had one final chance to force a punt and get the ball back, but Alabama did enough to milk the clock and leave Florida with little, if any, chance at a comeback. The Gators had one play from deep in their territory and were sacked.
Young completed 22 of 35 passes for 233 yards, showing little issues in a hostile environment. The Swamp packed in 90,887 fans, the fifth most in program history and the most since 2015. The Gators hoped it would affect Young, a redshirt freshman who had never played in that kind of atmosphere.
But he handled it well, especially in the first quarter. Robinson carried 14 times for 75 yards and a score in addition to his receiving TD.
Jones was 17-of-27 passing for 181 yards, with an interception. He was booed at times, partly because of the slow start and surely because of the home crowd’s disappointment in not seeing Richardson.