Saturday at The Swamp (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday October 3, 2006 9:39AM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 11:56AM
I found a nice patch of shade down in one of the end zone breezeways, which happened to be right behind the Alabama visitor section. At least the colors looked a little more familiar. As I stood in the end zone and watched the plays develop, I quickly made friends with the 'Bama fans around me. They told me the story behind the houndstooth hats I saw some of their fans wearing and even shared a bit of trivia and history with me. (Here's a fun fact: The quarterback for Alabama, John Parker Wilson, is the older brother of MTV's Two-a-Days quarterback, Ross.)
I was enjoying my time with the Tide so much that I nearly missed 'Bama draw first blood. Near the end of the first quarter, Chris Leak fumbled the snap, and the ball was scooped by 'Bama's Prince Hall, who ran for 50 yards, leading to what would be the Tide's lone touchdown of the game. The small section of fans around me erupted.
But I had seen this before; I knew this wasn't the end of Urban's Gators. Sure enough, after an Alabama field goal to go up 10-0, Florida answered with its own touchdown, making it only a three-point game at the half. And that was just the beginning.
I spent the second half of the game between the Alabama band and the UF student section. This was kind of like sitting between two countries at war with each other, only their weapons were words and whatever projectiles they could get their hands on. One by one the rowdiest of the bunch were escorted up the aisle next to me, wearing shiny new bracelets that were definitely not purchased at Tiffany.
By now, the Gators were on a roll. A one-point lead for Florida was soon 21-13, courtesy of a Leak pass to Dallas Baker, and then the fourth quarter became the Gators defense's talent show. In last year's showdown in Tuscaloosa, the Tide rolled the Gators in a 31-3 loss, sending them home with paper bags instead of helmets, but this year the Gators stuck to more conservative play-calling, relied more heavily on their defense and continued to make use of the two-quarterback system that has proven to be a valuable asset to this team. Alabama's Wilson was pressured into three turnovers, two of which produced late-game touchdowns, and was also sacked three times by a swarming Gators defense.
With the final seconds running off the clock in the 28-13 Florida win, I took in the scene around me. My scouting trip, while quite successful, had shown me what my 'Noles would be up against. And if the day's events foreshadowed anything, Nov. 25 is not going to be pretty.
It pains me to say this, but this Gators team is no Urban legend. Despite being touted as "overrated" by his own fan base, Chris Leak really is a good quarterback. He's level-headed and good at distributing the ball to his receivers, who collectively are among the top in the country. He won't win the Heisman, but he gets the job done. Tim Tebow has been on campus only a few months, and he already has legions of fans. Combined, the two quarterbacks are a lethal one-two punch. While Florida's running game and offensive line could use a pick-me-up, the Gators' passing and effective defense more than compensate for their shortcomings. Mark my words, these guys will be contenders for the national championship. And no, I didn't stutter.
As I walked to the car with my new friends from 'Bama, I couldn't help but sympathize with their loss and think, Is this to be my own fate? In the past few weeks, after a close call against Troy and a loss in our own house against Clemson, Florida State is still doing some soul-searching. Our offense is a "mission impossible," with players not executing and next to no running game. The defense has appeared shaken, and not stirred, especially against an overwhelming Clemson offense. If I was on the 'Noles' coaching staff, I would be spending my free time next Saturday doing some recon at the LSU/Florida game, because getting a home win for the 'Noles is well worth the $50 price of admission.
Driving across Florida's campus that night, I was surrounded by deafening cheers of "It's great ... to be ... a Florida Gator." And for once, I really couldn't argue with them. Because right now, it really is.