GAINESVILLE — During the first four games of the season, Florida coach Will Muschamp kept insisting there was a good reason to give freshman backup quarterback Jeff Driskel opportunities to play. He's one injury away from starting, Muschamp reasoned.
Saturday night, in front of the second-largest crowd in school history, Muschamp's hypothetical became reality.
No. 3 Alabama beat No. 12 Florida 38-10 in front of 90,888 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with Driskel running the second-half offense after John Brantley was injured.
It was Florida's third consecutive loss to Alabama, and Brantley's injury might have altered the remainder of its season.
With 35 seconds left in the first half, Brantley's right leg twisted on a sack by linebacker Courtney Upshaw. It was the second straight sack of the series.
Brantley could not put any weight on the leg as he was helped from the field. Muschamp said he did not know the extent of the injury, and Brantley was unavailable for comment.
The injury ended a half that seemed to hold some promise for the Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC), who took an early 10-3 lead only to see Alabama (5-0, 2-0) rally with 21 unanswered points.
Down 24-10 and its running game nearly nonexistent, Florida put together a six-play drive — aided by Chris Rainey's 25-yard catch — to land a first down at the Alabama 15. But then came the injury and a missed 52-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis (ending his streak of 13 made).
"When we lost John, that took the wind out of our sails a little bit," Muschamp said. "We moved the ball effectively in the first half. We felt very good going into halftime."
In three games prior to Saturday, Driskel was 5-of-10 for 59 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. Against Alabama, the only thing working for Florida was the passing game. And without the ability to run, Driskel did little, going 2-of-6 for 14 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
"The quarterback position, you've got to play well around him, and we didn't protect very well," Muschamp said. "Jeff didn't have much of a chance."
Alabama, which entered with the No. 2 defense in Division I-A, allowed 15 rushing yards and 207 passing. Brantley was 11-of-16 for 190 yards and one interception. Rainey and Jeff Demps were held to a combined 8 rushing yards.
"I give a lot of credit to Alabama," Rainey said.
Florida entered No. 4 in defense but was unable to contain Trent Richardson, who ran 29 times for 181 of Alabama's 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Alabama's A.J. McCarron was 12-of-25 for 140 yards.
The Gators, who had been criticized for their lack of a vertical passing game, scored on the second play of the game, a 65-yard pass from Brantley to sophomore Andre Debose.
Alabama scored 21 unanswered points to take a 24-10 lead into halftime. Seven of those points came on an interception returned 45 yards by Upshaw. Seven more came a few plays after Marquis Maze's 70-yard punt return.
Said Muschamp: "We got beat by a better team."