One nation under a Crimson Tide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For the past 25 months, the prevailing theme in the Southeastern Conference has been Alabama and Florida on one level and everyone else down below.
After the Beatdown in T-Town, the upper echelon has been cut in half. It's Alabama alone and everyone else down below.
This is a one-team league at the top.
In fact, this is a one-team nation.
With their 31-6 thumping of Florida, the Crimson Tide sent the following message around the South and around the country: When we're on our game, nobody can hang with us.
Not Ohio State, which wheezed past Illinois Saturday. Not Boise State, which would be hard-pressed to match the depth of the Tide. Not even Oregon, despite all the points the Ducks are racking up these days.
And certainly not these Gators. Not here, amid the nerve-racking noise of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Not now, as young Florida fumbles around in search of an identity -- and in search of a few playmakers.
This was Gators coach Urban Meyer's worst loss since his first year at Florida. This stopped the Gators' streaks of regular-season victories at 24, regular-season SEC victories at 16 and road victories at 11. And this stopped my belief that Florida deserves co-star status in this league.
The rubber match was a mismatch. The great rivalry has become a runaway.
Alabama has outscored Florida 63-19 in their past two meetings. Worse yet for the Gators, they haven't cracked the end zone against the Tide in the past six quarters.
And if these two teams meet again in the SEC title game for the third straight season, there is scant reason to expect a different outcome. Florida probably has more room to grow between now and then, but it's hard to imagine a team closing a chasm this wide in two months.
"It shows we can dominate our opponent," Alabama safety Mark Barron said. "Florida is a great team; they were ranked No. 7 for a reason. But the way we played tonight showed we are a force to be reckoned with."
Bama was so forceful Saturday night that it easily beat a top-10 opponent without anything special from Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. He scored two short touchdowns but had only 66 yards from scrimmage and didn't break a play longer than 9 yards.
Star supporting actor Trent Richardson was slightly more explosive, running for 63 yards and peeling off one 30-yard sprint. But he wasn't spectacular, either. Florida did a solid job of containing the Tide's overpowering running game.
And quarterback Greg McElroy was only adequate, passing for 84 yards and running for 33 and mostly just trying to take care of the football. McElroy humorously said on "GameDay" Saturday morning that he wanted to be called a field general -- but he was closer to a field captain in this game.
Despite all the underwhelming stats, this game was a blowout. That's because Alabama scored the first four times it had the ball, racking up 24 points in 24 minutes in a dazzling display of efficiency and opportunism. It was over after that.
"I was very pleased with the passion we had in the first half," said coach Nick Saban, who has been riding his team relentlessly about playing with consistent effort and focus all the time.
He can still ride his team Sunday after a middling second half. But he also can be privately tickled about a defense that is improving rapidly.
In its past six quarters of play, the Tide's defense has surrendered a total of nine points. Against two top-10 teams. After picking off Arkansas' Ryan Mallett three times Sept. 25, Bama had three more interceptions against the Gators and also recovered a fumble.
One of the picks came in the end zone on a Tebow Lite jump pass by Florida freshman Trey Burton -- a play the Tide had sniffed out all the way. And the Florida fumble was recovered inside the Alabama 5-yard line.
"We played great in the red zone," Saban said of his defense.
They played awfully well everywhere else, too. A C.J. Mosley pick-six in the third quarter concluded the scoring, and capped a night of torment for Gators quarterback John Brantley.
Much as with Garrett Gilbert at Texas, anticipation of instant stardom from Brantley has proved premature. Part of that can be attributed to a startling lack of playmakers in the Florida receiving corps and backfield. Part of that can be attributed to a veteran offensive line that isn't dominating anyone. And part of it is on the quarterback himself.
So there is plenty for Meyer to work on in the coming weeks. The good news for him is that the SEC East is a muddle of mediocrity, with only South Carolina appearing capable of challenging Florida -- and the Gamecocks must go to The Swamp in November.
Alabama has the tougher competition on its side of the league in the form of ancient rival Auburn. But the way the league looks right now, there is no such thing as serious competition for the Crimson Tide.
Said Ingram, "We believe when we're on the same page and play with the intangibles Alabama football is built on we're real tough to beat."
Nobody in the SEC has beaten Alabama since Florida did it in the 2008 title game. With the daylight the Tide have put between themselves and the Gators, that seems a long, long time ago.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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