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'Bama flexes its muscles, while Florida limps to finish

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Gainesville, Fla. -- In the final analysis, Saturday night's game between No. 3 Alabama and No. 12 Florida was not about the Teacher (Nick Saban) vs. the Student (Will Muschamp).

It was not about the NFL flavor provided by the coaching matchup of Saban vs. Charlie Weis, Florida's offensive coordinator.

No, this SEC showdown came down to one simple and undeniable fact: Alabama had Courtney Upshaw and Trent Richardson and Florida did not.

Richardson, a junior from Emmitt Smith's old high school (Escambia) in Pensacola, was simply a force of nature carrying the football 29 times for career-high 181 yards against a defense that was ranked fifth nationally against the run, giving up only 56.5 yards rushing per game. Richardson had 60 yards at end of the first quarter.

But it was Upshaw, the senior from Eufaula, Ala., who made the two plays that completely changed this game and fueled Alabama's 38-10 victory over the upset-minded Gators.

"We wanted to come into this kind of atmosphere and show that we're a good football team," Upshaw said. "And I believe we did that."

Yes they did.

For the second consecutive Saturday Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) used a defensive pick-six to turn the momentum of a game against a highly-ranked opponent. A week ago it was cornerback DeQuan Menzie, who returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown that began Alabama's 38-14 rout of Arkansas.

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Saturday night, before the second-largest crowd ever (90,888) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it was Upshaw who stepped in front of a John Brantley pass and rumbled 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Crimson Tide a 17-10 lead with less three minutes gone in the second quarter.

"I was just trying to get to the quarterback and the ball just kind of fell in my lap," Upshaw said. "After that I just kind of took off and nobody was in front of me."

After a methodical 61-yard drive put Alabama up 24-10, Upshaw delivered the most crushing blow of all to Florida. With 35 seconds left in the half, Upshaw simply overpowered the Florida offensive line to sack Brantley. Brantley's right knee turned under the weight of his body. The native of nearby Ocala, who had looked so good in the first half, had to be carried off the field. He gave way to true freshman Jeff Driskel, considered to be one of the nation's top high school quarterbacks last season.

Driskel, however, struggled last week in limited playing time against Kentucky. And this, dear readers, was not Kentucky. The second half was a mere formality which allowed everyone to get an early start home. Weis simply had to make sure that his freshman quarterback got out of this game in one piece.

Weis said before the game that, given Alabama's talent on defense, he was prepared "to throw the kitchen sink" at them. Weis stayed true to his word as on the first play from scrimmage Brantley lofted a 65-yard touchdown strike to Andre Debose, who had simply blown by Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama's All-SEC cornerback.

But Alabama did not panic. It simply kept feeding the ball to Richardson. Richardson ran five yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter and the score was tied at 10 apiece. And after Upshaw's pick-six gave Alabama the lead the Crimson Tide, again playing the role of heavyweight, methodically wore down the opponent with body punches and eventually knocked him out. Lest any thought of a comeback remained for Florida, the fatal blow came when Richardson raced 36 yards for touchdown to make it 31-10 with 12:25 left.

After being down 10-3 early in the game, Alabama scored 35 unanswered points.

"A couple of things were very impressive in this game for us," Saban said. "We showed a lot of resiliency in this kind of atmosphere. We were a little too hyped up on defense at the beginning. After we calmed down we did a really good job."

Last week Alabama held Arkansas to 19 yards rushing on 17 carries. Florida had 15 yards on 29 carries.

"Also, I can't say enough about how we controlled the line of scrimmage," Saban said. "Trent obviously did a great job of running the ball. But he'll be the first to tell you that our offensive line really played well tonight."

Alabama's path to the possible "Game of the Century" with No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5 appears now to be reasonably clear. The Crimson Tide hosts Vanderbilt next week and goes to struggling Ole Miss on Oct. 15. Then there is a home date with Tennessee, which has lost its best offensive weapon, wide receiver Justin Hunter. Then there is a week off before LSU comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Saban was asked if he thought Alabama was the best team in the land.

"I really can't compare us to other teams because I haven't seen them all," Saban said. "I've seen LSU play a few times because they are in our league and they have a really great team. But the good news is that we will eventually get to play them and we'll get a chance to see."

Florida (4-1, 2-1) may have been dealt a major blow to its hopes in the first year under Muschamp. If Brantley cannot go next week at LSU, that too promises to be a long day at the office. The SEC East is wide open as, after South Carolina's loss to Auburn on Saturday, every team in the division has at least one defeat. But it is hard to see Florida navigating the rest of its schedule successfully with an 18-year-old quarterback.

"We got beat by a better team tonight," Muschamp said.

Florida did get beat by a better team. A significantly better team. It may well be the best team in college football.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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