SEC's No. 1 defense collapses to Tide
By Andrew Abramson Independent Florida Alligator
Gainesville, FL (U-WIRE) -- Maybe it wasn't that bad.
It's not like Alabama scored its first touchdown in under 10 seconds.
No, it took the Crimson Tide a grand total of 12 seconds on their first possession to reach the end zone.
The Gators never recovered. Basically, in that single 11-second span, UF went from first in the Southeastern Conference in defense to the first top-5 team to ever fall in Tuscaloosa.
If defense wins championships, even a SEC title suddenly looks far-fetched.
And if that's the case, maybe it was that bad.
"We are a man-coverage team," UF coach Urban Meyer said, "and we were exposed."
UF quarterback Chris Leak entered the game a Heisman candidate, but it was Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle that crushed the UF defense with a nearly flawless pass attack.
On that first Alabama drive, Croyle stunned the Gators with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Tyrone Prothro.
It wasn't Alabama's only one-play drive that led to a touchdown.
Croyle would repeat the feat with 7:22 remaining in the second quarter, when his 65-yard pass to Keith Brown gave the Tide a 24-3 lead.
In the process, Croyle broke the school record for career passing touchdowns, eclipsing the former record of 35 shared by Alabama coach and former quarterback Mike Shula and Andrew Zow.
And he finished with gaudy statistics that included 283 passing yards and three touchdowns while completing 14 of 17 passes.
"They just threw the ball real well," Meyer said. "Those passes were right on the dime with a great release.
"[Croyle is] a terrific quarterback. I don't know much about him ... but I had heard good things about him. I watched him in warm-ups and he's an NFL quarterback."
Few expected UF's defense to be the team's strength this season. But early in the season, unheralded players like 5-foot-8 cornerback Vernell Brown and defensive tackle Steven Harris led a dangerous defensive charge.
Even when star defensive end Ray McDonald went down with a partially torn ACL in his right knee, Joe Cohen and Derrick Harvey were right there to pick up the slack.
It all came to a crashing halt on Saturday, when Alabama's 407 total yards of offense embarrassed a Florida defense that will no longer be called the SEC's best. That title, of course, goes to Alabama.
"We think they were better prepared than we were," linebacker Earl Everett said. "They did a lot of things that we expected them to do, and we still didn't execute well."
A visibly shaken Meyer refused to single out anybody on the defense, saying he had to look at the game film to see what exactly went wrong.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who earlier in the week said Alabama's talent-level didn't compare to Tennessee - a team that UF defeated 16-7 earlier in the season - refused to criticize the defense.
No player on UF's defense would come right out and blast a defense that let the game get out of hand in the first quarter.
"[We were hurt by] field position, man," Mincey said. "Our back was against the wall the whole game, and they just took advantage of that."
But in reality, UF should have plenty of reasons to be nervous. While Mississippi State should amount to an easy victory despite last year's debacle in Starkville, the Gators must travel to Baton Rouge the following week to face a potent
Louisiana State offense that seemingly has much more firepower than Alabama.
"We've definitely got a good defense," Everett said. "We've just got to capitalize on mistakes."
(C) 2004 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE