Dooley: Tide killers elite

Alabama's Trent Richardson runs for a touchdown during the second half against Florida in Gainesville Saturday, October 1, 2011.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 12:14 a.m.

They were being manhandled up front, to be quite honest, but there were at least some reasons for hope for the Florida Gators. We were finally seeing what the Charlie Weis passing offense looks like and the Gators were moving the ball against one of the best defenses in the nation.

Before the two disastrous plays, the second of which may have changed this season, the Gators had managed 198 yards against No. 3 Alabama, had scored twice and were on the verge of doing so again.

And then, a sack, And then, John Brantley went down in a heap.

“It took the wind out of our sails,” said UF coach Will Muschamp.

That's the thing about this Alabama team -- it doesn't just beat you, it beats you up.

We knew coming into this game Alabama was probably better than No. 12 Florida. Now we know for sure. It's not that Florida is a bad team. The Gators are just not an elite team.

There's no shame in that. You saw what an elite team looks like Saturday night. It doesn't mean the Tide will win a national title or even an SEC crown because we all know there is another elite team in this conference and the LSU Tigers are licking their chops at the prospect of welcoming Jeff Driskel into Death Valley.

But if you are an elite team, you don't lose the line of scrimmage battles that Muschamp has been preaching about. Florida lost them on both sides of the ball.

“We've got to find other ways to run the ball,” he said.

If you are an elite team, you don't commit silly penalties (although I can check something off my bucket list because I saw Alabama called for offensive holding). You don't give up cheap points. You don‘t give up all of those third-and-longs on screen passes.

So they're not there yet.

“There's no question we're frustrated,” Muschamp said. “If you're a competitor, you're going to be.”

The question is -- where are they?

The SEC East is a mess, but does Florida have a chance to be involved in the race?

The brutal schedule is an Octo-bear that isn't going to get any easier, especially if the Gator defense doesn't tackle any better than it did Saturday night. Florida is going to have to be especially stout defensively if the offense can't run against good defenses.

There was a moment in the game when Driskel scrambled for 31 yards and you could almost imagine that the No. 16 was a No. 15. But three plays later, that drive was over and any hope that remained was floating out of the stadium.

And when Trent Richardson caught Florida in a third-and-3 blitz and scurried 36 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, hope took a cab home.

It didn't help that Florida couldn't catch a break. But if you are counting on breaks, it's not going to end well.

And it didn't. Despite pitching a third-quarter shutout, the Gators could make up no ground. And the Gator defense wore out in the fourth quarter, allowing the pom-pom shakers to have their glory.

We'll never know if it might have been different if Brantley had not suffered his leg injury, but I'm betting it wouldn't have been a lot different.

Florida would have had to play an extraordinary game to win and only the start was extraordinary.

“Injuries are part of the game,” said Muschamp. “We've got to get better. We'll find out a lot about our football team on Monday.”

And next Saturday.

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