By Scott Latta, UA Media Relations
GAINESVILLE, Fla.--The Alabama football team couldn't hold a three-point halftime lead and the Florida defense scored 14 points on Crimson Tide turnovers as Alabama (3-2, 1-2) fell, 28-13, to No. 5 Florida (5-0, 3-0) Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson was 21-of-40 for 240 yards but threw three interceptions, the last of which was picked off by Florida senior Reggie Nelson and returned 70 yards with 4:21 left for the final touchdown of the day.
"They were throwing a lot of stuff at us," Wilson said. "A lot of stuff with the defensive linemen and with the linebackers, a lot of blitzes and twists, which is tough to pick up, but I thought we did a fairly good job today. We got banged around pretty good today."
Florida took the lead for good in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Chris Leak to Andre Caldwell. After starting the drive on their own 20-yard line, the Gators drove 80 yards to take a 14-10 lead with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Alabama pulled to within one on a 26-yard Jamie Christensen field goal less than five minutes later after the Crimson Tide drive stalled at the Florida nine-yard line. The kick cut the Gator lead to 14-13 with 12:47 left in the game.
After forcing a Florida punt, an Alabama drive ended when Ryan Smith picked off a Wilson pass at the Alabama 34-yard line. Three plays later, Leak connected with Dallas Baker for a 21-yard touchdown to extend the Gator lead to 21-13 with 6:47 left in the game.
The loss was just the second time Alabama has fallen to Florida in nine trips to Gainesville.
"It was a tough loss and difficult to swallow," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said. "Our guys played hard, we had a real good week of practice and preparation, but you hate to see that not pay off for your guys."
Alabama junior DJ Hall led all receivers with six catches for 117 yards, and junior Keith Brown caught four passes for 36 yards.
Tide senior Ken Darby led all rushers with 15 carries for 76 yards. Darby's 29 receiving yards gave him 105 all-purpose yards in the game. Alabama's 83 rushing yards gave the Tide 323 total yards.
"I thought we handled the ball well but we just had too much missed communication with Keith and John Parker. It's unfortunate," Shula said. "At these times, you rely on your team to get it done and make those plays to win on Saturdays."
Alabama took a 10-7 lead to the half, with Florida pulling to within three on a late two-yard touchdown run by freshman Tim Tebow. After fielding the Alabama punt at the four-yard line, the Gators orchestrated a 12-play, 96-yard drive, highlighted by a 45-yard run by Leak, the longest of his career.
"We did some good things, we had the lead and then Florida came out with the quarterback run in the second quarter where he ran against the blitz," Shula said. "That gave them the chance to get the ball in the end zone."
Leak finished the day 15-of-21 for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
"He did some really good things today and put his team in position to win the ball game," Alabama junior defensive end Wallace Gilberry said.
Alabama got on the board first when freshman Prince Hall recovered a Leak fumble, returning it 50 yards. Christensen's extra point gave the Tide a 7-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter. The Tide extended its lead to 10-0 on a 21-yard Christensen field goal with 12:44 left in the half.
Hall's fumble recovery was one of two turnovers forced by Alabama on the day, the second of which came on a Tebow fumble with 10 seconds left in the game.
Alabama returns home to Bryant-Denny Stadium next Saturday (October 7) to take on the Duke Blue Devils.