Grading The Gators: UF offense goes toe-to-toe with Tide

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida running back Dameon Pierce goes into the end zone for a touchdown Saturday against Alabama linebacker Ben Davis during the second half of the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

OFFENSE A-

First half: The Gators started fast with Kadarius Toney’s 51-yard touchdown and added a field goal on their second series. Alabama forced the game’s first punt in the second quarter after Florida gained just 13 yards in five plays, but the offense responded by marching 75 yards to score before the half. 

Second half: UF opened the third quarter with another four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but couldn’t capitalize after Alabama turned it over on downs and punted again. Florida would find the end zone three more times and outscored the Tide 29-17 in the second half. Kyle Trask’s sack fumble, however, came at the worst time. 

For the game: Trask had his third-straight 400-yard passing performance and fifth of the season, while Kyle Pitts and Toney both eclipsed 100 yards receiving, as the Gators aired it out against Alabama. They needed to score in the 50s to win this game and would have with one more touchdown … or defensive stop. 

DEFENSE D-

First half: All five offensive drives for the Tide resulted in touchdowns, although they technically had six possessions in the half with Trey Dean III’s pick and lost fumble. Florida’s defense aided the Tide with penalties on third down and let them score right before the break.

Second half: The Gators gave much better effort, with Alabama being shutout in the third quarter and scoring just 14 points on its own. The defense opened the half with back-to-back stops, held the Tide to a field goal off Trask’s turnover and forced a three-and-out on their last series.

For the game: UF had no answers for DeVonta Smith or Najee Harris, who exposed Florida’s linebackers in the run game and in coverage. The Gators made a few defensive stands, but desperately needed some in the first half. And they rarely rattled Mac Jones, who was sacked twice and hurried once. 

SPECIAL TEAMS B

First half: After missing the game-tying field goal against LSU, kicker Evan McPherson bounced back with a 40-yarder Saturday. Jacob Finn boomed his second-quarter punt 45 yards to the Alabama 10, but Smith returned it for 20 yards. 

Second half: Finn flipped the field and pinned the Tide inside the 10 with his second punt, which led to Alabama’s first. The Gators went for the win late in the fourth with their onside kick, but couldn’t recover the ball. 

For the game: Special teams didn’t play much of a factor with both offenses trading so many touchdowns. The only time McPherson needed to be on the field was for PATs and kickoff, and Florida never had to call on him in the red zone. 

OVERALL B

We knew Alabama was going to score on Florida’s defense, but could Trask & Co. keep up after four straight games in the 30s? Not at first, but UF rallied and went toe-to-toe with the nation’s No. 1 team after nobody gave them a shot. There are no moral victories, but the Gators left it all in the field and showed how far this program has come since the 2016 trip to Atlanta — a 54-16 loss to the Tide.