TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No dome.
No title on the line.
Practically no intrigue.
Alabama took any excitement out of its highly anticipated rematch of the past two SEC title games as it pounded mistake-riddled Florida 31-6 Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Forget the score. At least one statistic showed this should have been more of a slugfest than a rout: Trailing by 25 with 9:36 to play, Florida actually was outgaining the Tide 269-220 in total yards and finished with an 8-yard advantage, 281-273.
But those four incredibly costly turnovers doomed the Gators’ shot at revenge for last season’s loss in the Georgia Dome. The most detrimental were the two committed in the shadow of the Alabama goal line.
“It is something we emphasized tremendously with the group with the turnover drills that we do,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “Every ball that hits the ground, we have to pick it up and run with it. Turnovers probably have the biggest effect on the game.”
In all, Florida was 1-for-4 in red zone opportunities after entering the night ranked second among SEC teams in the category. The SEC’s leader in turnover margin was a negative-4.
Alabama didn’t waste many opportunities. It scored after three of the four Gator giveaways on a night when the offense started fast but faded late.
The top-ranked Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) blew out the Gators without a huge night from its biggest star. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram ran for just 47 yards on 12 carries — his lowest total since Auburn held him to 30 last November.
Trent Richardson’s 63 yards on 10 carries led the Tide. Ingram did score two touchdowns in the first half as part of the 24-point cushion Alabama partially took and Florida partially gave.
The three Florida interceptions and one fumble effectively erased all the yards it piled up.
Both first-half turnovers led to Alabama touchdowns, with the first killing a promising drive 2 yards shy of the end zone.
Freshman Trey Burton, who broke Tim Tebow’s school record with six touchdowns a week ago, lost the first turnover on a jump pass hauled in by Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. Burton wasn’t nearly as effective a week after his record-breaking night. He ran four times for 6 yards and caught four passes for 33 yards but never reached the end zone.
Nine plays and 80 yards after Johnson‘s interception that Saban called a “major turning point,” Ingram ran the final 6 yards to give the Tide a 10-0 advantage.
A Dre Kirpatrick interception in the second quarter was followed two plays later by a 19-yard wildcat touchdown pass from Marquis Maze to Michael Williams to leave Florida stunned and trailing 24-0.
Only a 39-yard field goal by backup kicker Chas Henry in the final minute of the quarter kept the Gators from entering halftime scoreless but still trailing by three touchdowns.
After another Henry field goal to open the second half and an Alabama punt, Florida had a second wind until the third interception sent the Gators to the mat. Linebacker C.J. Mosley read the eyes of John Brantley, who threw off his back foot and straight to the Alabama freshman, who ran in 35 yards to effectively put the game away midway through the third quarter and provided the final score.
The seventh-ranked Gators tossed in a fumble in the fourth quarter after reaching the 1-yard line once again.
After scoring on each of its first four possessions, Alabama’s offense didn’t do much damage, finishing with 273 total yards, with only 69 after halftime including just 5 passing yards.
But with Florida tripping all over itself in the red zone, the Tide offense wasn’t all that necessary.
Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy did most of his damage with screen passes and dump downs. He completed 11 of his 17 attempts for 84 yards and — for the first time in three weeks — played a whole game without throwing an interception. He even ran for 39 yards when receivers were covered.