TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For two-plus quarters, the Florida Gators were opportunistic enough to be dead even with No. 3 Alabama on the scoreboard if not the stat sheet.
The Gators’ sputtering offense and a defense that yielded a program-worst 645 yards resulted in a 42-21 defeat Saturday in a game they were hoping to turn into a statement.
Florida (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) had converted three of Alabama’s four turnovers into touchdowns, including Keanu Neal’s 49-yard return of a fumble.
“We have to go back again and evaluate where we are,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “The execution is not where it needs to be. We missed a deep ball to (Demarcus Robinson) early in the game where he got on top of a guy. (We) had a dropped third down. Against a team like that, you have to make plays when you have the opportunities, and we didn’t do that.
“We didn’t run the ball efficiently enough, we didn’t stay on the field on third down and we need to go back and evaluate the decisions we made going into the game and during the game.”
Blake Sims threw for 445 yards for the Tide (4-0, 1-0), the second-best passing performance in school history, and four touchdowns. Amari Cooper caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Alabama committed 11 penalties for 80 yards and four turnovers that turned into 21 points for the Gators.
“The guys are really upset,” Gators center Max Garcia said. “We had a lot of opportunities and we didn’t capitalize. I think they just took advantage of the advantages that we gave them. We had some turnovers ourselves that really hurt.”
Sims threw touchdown passes of 87 yards to Kenyan Drake on the opening play and 79 to Cooper later in the first quarter. Still, 400 yards for an Alabama offense known more in the past for bruising running games?
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Sims said.
The previous high against a Florida defense was Nebraska’s 629 yards in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
Alabama’s Derrick Henry gained 111 yards on 20 rushes.
The Gators’ offense wasn’t much more successful than its defense.
Florida’s Jeff Driskel was harassed and ineffective passing. He was 9-of-28 passing for 93 yards and was intercepted twice while the offense produced just 200 yards.
Driskel did run for 59 yards, but it got so bad that Florida legend Emmitt Smith called for the quarterback’s benching on Twitter.
Robinson, who had 15 catches in an overtime win over Kentucky, was held to two receptions for 14 yards.
Florida failed in its bid for a statement-making performance after a 4-8 season and to perhaps lift Muschamp, whose mentor Nick Saban was on the opposite sideline, from the hot seat.
The Tide’s blunders kept the game from being even more lopsided.
“We had our chances and we didn’t do it,” Muschamp said. “That’s the frustrating thing.”
It was all Alabama after Driskel’s 14-yard touchdown run tied the game at 21-21 early in the third quarter. That came two plays after Neiron Ball got his left hand on a Sims throw at the line and Antonio Morrison scooped it up for a 20-yard return. All three of the Gators’ touchdowns came after turnovers.
“Obviously everybody that watched the game could tell that there were some things that we did extremely well and some things that were pretty sloppy,” Saban said. “But I thought in the second half we really controlled the game.”
Alabama answered the tying score with a 16-play drive sustained despite two penalties and a sack. Henry dodged a couple of defenders for a 29-yard catch on third-and-23 and scored on a 3-yard run on the next play with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
“We didn’t make the plays and they did,” Driskel said. “We didn’t get it done. It’s a matter of execution.
“It was a game of big plays. Alabama had a lot more than us.”
The Tide did get a scare when Sims went to the locker room after bruising his right shoulder on a 24-yard run late in the third quarter but he did play again.