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Saturday’s game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Florida in The Swamp was a momentous occasion, a contest defined just as much by decisive, momentum-swinging plays as near misses for both teams.
It appeared at first that the top-ranked Tide would run the Gators out of their own stadium, jumping to a 21-3 first-quarter lead off the passing prowess of Bryce Young (22 of 35 passing, 240 yards, three touchdowns). But Dan Mullen’s team nearly fought back from the 18-point deficit, ultimately falling 31-29 after linebacker Jaylen Moody brought down Florida quarterback Emory Jones on the final play of the game:
ALABAMA HANGS ON pic.twitter.com/drEU0p7ggQ
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 18, 2021
That was the final play of the game, but there were several more that had a greater impact on the game, a too-close call for Alabama and Co. early in the 2021 season.
With that, Sporting News breaks down the biggest plays and near misses from Saturday’s matchup:
Florida’s missed 2-point conversion
No play had a bigger direct impact on the game than Florida’s game-tying attempt. By that point in the game, Alabama’s defense was not only gassed, but also showed a complete inability to stop the Gators’ rushing attack.
Why then, did Jones (18 for 28, 195 passing yards, 77 rushing yards) hold the ball for so long on the zone-read option, right after Dameon Pearce strolled in nearly untouched after a 17-yard score? The slow-developing play allowed linebacker Drew Sanders to get a lick on Jones, and for Alabama’s defense to swallow up Malik Davis before he could get a full head of steam.
Hell of a game by Florida
But can we talk about this 2 point conversion attempt…wtf… pic.twitter.com/yineUkoqZM
— Tim England (@tengland_150) September 18, 2021
Regardless, the failed attempt completely altered the way Alabama approached its final possession of the game, as the offense elected to go conservative in a bid to bleed the clock.
Alabama gives up 26-yard touchdown at end of the half
Florida had six first-half drives against Alabama, which ended in a field goal, interception, turnover on downs and two punts. The Gators’ lone touchdown drive provided a brief glimpse of the second half, however, as Davis rumbled his way into the end zone, dragging Alabama defenders in with him.
MALIK DAVIS JUST KEPT GOING pic.twitter.com/ly5hLeLRPi
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 18, 2021
The touchdown ultimately made the score 21-9 — more on that in a minute — but, more importantly, provided a much-needed spark for the Gators offense. It also set the tone for how Mullen attacked the Alabama defense in the second half: Florida outgained the Crimson Tide 245-91 on the ground, also eclipsing its passing total (195 yards) by 50 yards.
Alabama was nearly incapable of stopping the run in the second half, and it all started with this 26-yard score.
Florida’s missed point after attempt
It’s easy to point to the missed 2-point attempt as the game-defining play, but the reason Florida found itself in need of the try is because of a routine point after attempt that went wide right. Following Davis’ 26-yard touchdown, Chris Howard’s attempt was off the mark, keeping Florida that much further away from the nation’s top-ranked team. Florida ended up closing the distance, but the missed PAT was the ultimate difference.
Florida converts third down from its 1
There might not have been a more demoralizing play for Alabama in Saturday’s game than Florida’s third-down conversion, in the third quarter, from its own 1-yard line. The play — an 18-yard catch-and-run from Nay’Quan Wright on third-and-9 — at the very least kept Florida punter Jeremy Crawshaw from kicking near the back of his end zone.
Nay’Quan Wright on that 99 yard drive >>>>>> pic.twitter.com/oxUdOBN1cn
— Tim McRaw (@Gator_Alum) September 19, 2021
It ended up being the first positive play in an 11-play, 99-yard touchdown drive — just the second against a Nick Saban defense since he took over at Alabama in 2007 (the first came in 2018, against Texas A&M). It made the score 28-23, moving Florida to within a touchdown of the Crimson Tide for the first time since it was 10-3 early in the first quarter.
Florida pass interference on Alabama touchdown drive
Alabama had only one touchdown drive in the second half, one that received a big helping hand from Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. Young was looking to target John Metchie III on third-and-12 from Florida’s 30; his pass was nearly intercepted, but only because Cox flattened Metchie on the route.
Who can say what would have happened had Cox not hit Metchie on the route? Perhaps he would have caught the ball and stretched just far enough for a first down; maybe he could have gone for a touchdown on the play. Or it could have been an interception. What is certain, however, is that it kept Alabama alive another play; the Tide ended up scoring a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to take a 28-16 lead.
Bama’s penalty on the 1-yard line
Last, but not least: Alabama’s final scoring drive of the day, capped with a 24-yard field goal from Will Reichard, very well could have been a touchdown — or a huge defensive stop for Florida.
Before kicking the field goal, Alabama appeared ready to go for it on fourth-and-1, which would have been its second-straight scoring drive to end on a fourth-down conversion attempt. But a false start by Emil Ekiyor Jr. — in the face of an incredibly loud Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — made it fourth-and-6, bringing out the field goal unit. The penalty ended up keeping Alabama out of the end zone, one way or another, and kept Florida a touchdown and 2-point conversion away from tying the game.
If Alabama scores on fourth down, it would likely be the end of the game, then and there. Or perhaps Florida notches the defensive stop, goes 99 yards to take the lead and sends Alabama home with a loss. Again, who knows what would have happened, or what impact it would have had on the game?
The same could be said for any of Saturday’s plays.