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Florida DBs hope for a less pass-happy 'Bama this time around

Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (13) makes a touchdown reception over Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (1) and defensive back Marcus Maye (20) in the third quarter of the SEC championship game between the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (Loren Elliot, Times)
Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (13) makes a touchdown reception over Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (1) and defensive back Marcus Maye (20) in the third quarter of the SEC championship game between the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (Loren Elliot, Times)
Published Dec. 1, 2016

GAINESVILLE — Backed into his own end zone, trailing late in the game and with the Florida State marching band blasting the War Chant, Jalen Tabor danced.

He swayed side to side and looked across the field at his team's bench, at one point doing a mock tomahawk chop. Safety Marcell Harris pointed out the uncovered FSU receiver to snap the junior corner out of it, sending him sprinting toward the open man.

Once the play began, Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois galloped through Florida's defense, scoring for the final time in FSU's 31-13 win over the Gators on Saturday.

But despite the lopsided result, Tabor did have something — however small, given his team's loss — to celebrate with his dance moves.

He and his fellow defensive backs had dominated FSU's receivers.

On the night, No. 15 Florida (8-3, 6-2 SEC) allowed the Seminoles to throw for 138 yards, 46 of which came on one play. For comparison, UF allowed LSU to throw for 204 yards the week prior and still secured a win.

Tabor himself notched three pass breakups, as did his partner Quincy Wilson. They entered the game with five combined this season.

The dominance was nothing new. Florida ranks third in the nation in pass defense.

But Saturday against No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC), Tabor knows the challenge will be greater than anything he's faced this season.

"I never really felt like that during a game, but those guys really brought it to us," Tabor said of facing Alabama in last season's SEC title game. "For the first time ever playing football, I kind of felt like it was a little bit tougher than it normally was."

On Alabama's first play from scrimmage a season ago, Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker shoveled the ball to running back Kenyan Drake, who dashed toward the sideline. Tabor had been lined up like a linebacker and ran after him, his eyes locked on his target.

That is, until Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley smacked him into the ground. And it wasn't the only time.

Matched up against receiver ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard early in the third quarter, Tabor was again driven to the ground, this time by Howard, while Stewart took a screen pass for a first down.

At the end of the game, Alabama had thrown for 204 yards, led by Ridley's 102.

Tabor said that during the offseason, he used the humbling as motivation to be ready next time.

"When we see those boys again," Tabor said, "I don't want to feel like that during the game."

Wilson also remembers the challenge of covering Alabama's receivers. He's not lacking confidence, however, heading into Saturday.

"They definitely rank up there with the top guys," he said. "…But if we just go out there and do what we do, it won't be a problem at all."

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