TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s numbers were a mish-mash of the awfully pretty and pretty awful: four turnovers, 11 penalties, 645 yards — and one more win.
The third-ranked Crimson Tide retained its perfect record with Saturday’s 42-21 win over Florida but the performance was anything but pristine. Even coach Nick Saban didn’t seem all that perturbed by the miscues, particularly since Alabama has an open date to iron things out before visiting No. 10 Mississippi.
“We’ve had far too many of those this year, and we’ve got to get it corrected,” Saban said. “But there’s also been a tremendous amount of production offensively. We need to clean those negative plays up — the penalties, missed assignments, turnovers, which I think are all correctable — and be more consistent in our ability to execute. I think that’s a lot easier to do when you eliminate negative plays.”
He said many of the 11 penalties for 80 yards resulted from lack of discipline but that this hasn’t been characteristic of the Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference).
The Gators (2-1, 1-1) cashed in on three of the turnovers with touchdowns for their only points, one on a fumble recovery and the other two on drives totaling 47 yards. Even while Alabama was drubbing Florida on the stat sheet, the game was tied 21-21 early in the third quarter.
It showed the divide remains large between Florida and the Tide, which has won the last four meetings by an average of 23 points.
The Gators were helpless to slow down Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and Alabama’s passing game. They gave up a school-record for total yards while Sims produced only the second 400-yard passing game in Tide history. Cooper accounted for 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
On the flip side, Jeff Driskel was intercepted twice and Florida managed only 200 yards. Alabama’s defense didn’t produce any interceptions in the first three games.
Sims, who has an extra week to heal a bruised right shoulder, put a positive spin on the Tide’s issues after two easy wins.
“That’s the main thing we’ve been waiting for, to see how we can overcome the bad things coming,” Sims said. “We see that we can make that happen and come back and go score and do what we have to do.”
The first-year starter passed for 445 yards, Alabama’s second highest single-game total, but also threw an interception that set up Florida’s final touchdown and fumbled the ball away in Gators territory on another drive.
“Especially in the first half, some of the sloppy play that we had was because he wasn’t managing the game very well,” Saban said. “The communication wasn’t good. People were uncertain about what to do. I think when you have that, people play slow. We didn’t have much room and we didn’t have much tempo. Much better in the second half.
“Those are the types of things that as Blake gets more experienced, we need him to do better.”
The up-and-down nature of Alabama’s performance was exemplified by the first two offensive plays. Tailback Kenyan Drake lined up wide and caught an 87-yard touchdown on a nicely executed play. Then, Drake opened the next possession with the first of Alabama’s three fumbles.
The Tide’s next drive into Florida territory ended with a fumble returned 49 yards for a touchdown by Keanu Neal.
Other numbers also emphasized the disparity beyond Bama’s blunders. Alabama was 12 of 16 on third down conversions, Florida was 2 of 13.
“We couldn’t stay on the field and couldn’t get off the field defensively,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “It was a long game, we just wore down.”
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