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October 2, 2011

First loss leaves Florida facing adversity

Florida landed the first blow against No. 3 Alabama on Saturday night, yet the Gators still found themselves backed into a corner.

After the Gators came out with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose on the first play from scrimmage, Alabama responded in a big way. The Tide put together a 12-play, 52-yard drive that cut the Gators' lead to 7-3. And by the end of the first quarter, Alabama worked its way to a 10-10 tie.

Then Courtney Upshaw returned a John Brantley interception for a touchdown. Then, Brantley left the game with an apparent knee injury.

Then things quickly snowballed for the Gators.

After cruising to comfortable wins in their first four games, the Gators faced adversity for the first time all season in a 38-10 loss to the Tide.

"We didn't handle it very well," coach Will Muschamp said. "We got to push through it."

Saturday's result in The Swamp was eerily similar to last season, when a confident, 4-0 Florida team marched into Tuscaloosa, Ala., ready to take on the world.

The Gators fell behind early that time. They took the ball down field on their ensuing possession, only to come up empty when a Trey Burton jump pass turned into an Alabama interception. The Tide went on to score a touchdown on their next three possessions, and Florida ultimately lost, 31-6.

Florida then lost its next two games to LSU and Mississippi State.

But the Gators had hoped the same wouldn't happen this season.

Leading up to Saturday's clash with Alabama, Florida players said this year was different than last. They said the team would be able to respond well to being on the ropes because of an increased emphasis on chemistry and bonding during off season workouts and throughout camp, giving credit to strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.

That wasn't the case Saturday, though.

After falling into a 14-point halftime hole and losing their starting quarterback, the Gators were only able to muster 46 second-half yards against the Tide, and no points to show for it.

Meanwhile, Alabama continued to have its way with Florida, whose defense was on the field for 18:40 of the second half. The Tide added two more touchdowns on the ground en route to 226 yards as a team and a career day from running back Trent Richardson (29 carries, 181 yards and two scores).

Muschamp said the outcome was disappointing and that he was both encouraged and frustrated by what happened on the field, adding that "we'll find out a lot more about our football team on Monday and how we respond to the situation."

"Just call it a punch in the mouth," running back Chris Rainey said. "We'll just regroup, become a team again and take another step forward, because the season ain't over yet."

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