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Mighty Alabama sends Florida a message

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you've followed the Southeastern Conference, the story is pretty familiar by now.

You know, the one about the big-shot coach who shows up to rescue a tradition-rich program from his inept predecessor. He goes on to win a national championship in a hurry and is hailed as the new genius of the SEC.

If you're a fan of the head coach at the University of Florida, you've got to know that story by heart.

So, for future reference, you should have no problem substituting Nick Saban's name for Urban Meyer's.

Because, after Saturday night, there should be no doubt about who's the man in charge in the SEC. Meet the new boss. Vain as the old boss.

If you did not believe last season's SEC Championship Game was a changing of the guard, then Saturday night's 31-6 Alabama victory should be the signal to salute the changing Tide. Meyer was so disheartened and in such poor health after the title game last year that he briefly announced his retirement.

"We got beat by a good team," Meyer said this time. "We didn't play very well."

That's the short version of what happened Saturday night.

The full version was less dramatic.

I imagine, if you stare long enough at the numbers, you can convince yourself Florida was nearly as good as Alabama.

The Gators gained more total yards. They held the ball longer. They had nearly as many first downs, and the defense came away with more sacks than Alabama did. And none of it means a thing.

This game was over by the middle of the second quarter, and the rest of the night was like watching a bunch of guys jogging to the finish line.

"I can only say the scoreboard is what it is, but I like our team," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "I didn't like the result (Saturday night), but I still like our team. That's the only way I can answer that."

There was some talk that this debacle might be similar to the Ole Miss game in 2008. You might recall that loss led to an impassioned Tim Tebow speech and, a couple of months later, a national championship.

You may not want to plan your New Year's around that happening again.

It is not just the final score that should worry Florida. After all, that could be excused. You play an early-season game on the road against the nation's No. 1 ranked team, and you should probably expect to leave town with a loss.

The problem is the scoreboard was more forgiving than the naked eye.

This was not just a beatdown. Whether it was intended or not, it was a message.

Even if the Gators recover and beat LSU this week, even if they run the table and win another Eastern Division title, even if they return to the Top 10 by the end of November, they will still have to go through Alabama in the SEC title game.

In other words, any national title hopes are toast.

It's just hard to imagine Florida getting that much better between now and December. If you wanted to be polite, you would say the offense is a work in progress. If you wanted to be accurate, you would say the offense is a few weapons short of dangerous.

The Gators got inside the Alabama 10 on three drives. In all, they ran 11 plays that produced one field goal, one interception, one fumble and one case of the yips.

As marvelous as Meyer has been during his tenure at Florida, he has not adjusted well to his Tebow-less world. Meyer has known for a long time that John Brantley was going to be running the offense in 2010, but he has not designed a game plan that fits his quarterback's talents.

The Gators are trying to run the ball up the middle but don't have a dependable back big enough to run between the tackles. They are trying option plays on the outside, but Brantley isn't nimble enough to fake or spook.

Meanwhile, Alabama pretty much did whatever it wanted to do. Whenever it wanted to do it.

When he showed up for his news conference, Meyer was not in a mood for introspection. His answers to the first few questions were brief and unremarkable. All in all, it lasted less than 100 seconds.

And then Meyer retired.

At least for the night.

After Saturday night, there should be no doubt about who's the man in charge in the SEC. Meet the new boss. Vain as the old boss.

Mighty Alabama sends Florida a message 10/02/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 3, 2010 1:33pm]
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