Bryce Young’s first collegiate road start was a rousing success, a three-touchdown performance that helped top-ranked Alabama hold off No. 11 Florida 31-29 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide stopped a 2-point conversion with 3:10 left and extended its winning streak to 17, making it 32 in a row against teams from the SEC’s Eastern Division.
The Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) have now dropped eight straight in the series and fell to 0-5 against No. 1-ranked teams at Florida Field.
This one was closer than oddsmakers and just about everyone else expected, with 14 ½-point underdog Florida having a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes despite playing without dynamic backup quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Coach Dan Mullen held Richardson out as a precaution because of a strained right hamstring and said he would only be available in case of an emergency.
That never became the case even though the Gators trailed 21-3 at the end of the first quarter. Young built the lead with TD passes to Jase McClellan, Jaheel Billingsley and Brian Johnson.
The Gators rallied and were in position to tie late. Dameon Pierce capped a 75-yard drive with a 17-yard run that made it 31-29. But fellow running back Malik Davis failed to get the 3 yards needed on the 2-point conversion.
Florida seemingly got a break when Alabama (3-0, 1-0) was flagged for a false start on fourth-and-goal at the 1. Alabama settled for a field goal and an eight-point lead. That gave the Gators a chance to tie, and play-caller Mullen and quarterback Emory Jones directed a masterful drive.
It ended up not being enough.
The Gators had one final chance to force a punt and get the ball back, but Alabama did enough to milk the clock and leave Florida with little, if any, chance at a comeback. The Gators had one play from deep in their territory and were sacked.
Young completed 22 of 35 passes for 233 yards. Brian Robinson carried 14 times for 75 yards and a score.
Jones was 17-of-27 passing for 181 yards, with an interception. He was booed at times, partly because of the slow start and surely because of the home crowd’s disappointment in not seeing Richardson.
Alabama: Coach Nick Saban’s team looked susceptible after the first quarter, especially on defense. The Tide was gashed between the tackles and picked apart over the middle. There was no consistent pass rush, which has to give everyone in the SEC at least a little hope the rest of the way.
Florida: Mullen has completely changed his team offensively, switching from a passing attack that featured Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts to a ground game that rotates three running backs and two mobile quarterbacks. The Gators entered the game leading the nation in rushing and finished with 241 yards on the ground.
Alabama hosts Southern Miss next Saturday. The Tide have won 15 of the last 16 in the series.
Florida hosts Tennessee next Saturday night. The Gators have won 15 of the last 16 in the series, which used to be more meaningful in the East.