GAINESVILLE (AP) — Trent Richardson slipped through a hole, cut toward the sideline and found no one between him and the end zone.
The closest Florida defender, safety Josh Evans, was yards away.
He might as well have been miles. It would have been more appropriate given the apparent distance between the two programs.
Richardson ran for a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns, breaking tackles and carrying defenders along the way, and the third-ranked Crimson Tide rolled the Gators 38-10 Saturday night in an early season matchup of Southeastern Conference heavyweights.
Alabama looked every bit ready to reclaim the league’s top spot and showed the Gators how far they have to go to get back to championship form.
“This was very sweet because it was against Florida,” said Richardson, a junior from nearby Pensacola. “I really wanted to play well in this game and help us get a win.”
Richardson finished with his fourth consecutive 100-yard game, and the latest one should solidify his position as one the Heisman Trophy front-runners.
With Richardson leading the way, the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) extended its recent dominance in the series. Alabama has outscored Florida (4-1, 2-1) 101-29 in the last three meetings, all wins.
The latest one was over by halftime, a clear knockout in a game billed as Florida’s speed vs. Alabama’s power. It also denied new Florida coach Will Muschamp a victory against his mentor, Alabama’s Nick Saban.
“Obviously, we didn’t do many things well,” Muschamp said. “We have to correct the issues we have because we’ll see them again.”
It was Florida’s worst home loss since falling to LSU 36-7 in 2002 — the beginning of the Ron Zook era. Saban-coached teams dealt Florida both losses.
It could get worse, too. The Gators play at top-ranked LSU next week — and they might be without quarterback John Brantley.
Brantley threw a perfect deep ball to Andre Debose on the game’s opening play, a 65-yard touchdown pass that energized the second-largest crowd (90,888) in the history of Florida Field. It ended up being one of few highlights for the Gators.
“We showed the maturity to overcome the adversity we created for ourselves,” Saban said. “I liked our resiliency. This is about as good as it gets.”
Florida couldn’t run, couldn’t stop the run and lost Brantley to a right leg injury late in the second quarter. A senior who has started 18 consecutive games, Brantley twisted his knee and ankle on a sack just before halftime. He was helped to the locker room and did not return for the second half. Highly touted freshman Jeff Driskel replaced him.
“When we lost John, that took the wind out of our sails,” said Muschamp, who said he would know more about Brantley’s injury Sunday. “I haven’t even talked to the doctor yet. I have no idea.”
Brantley completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, most of it coming before Alabama’s defense stiffened.
Courtney Upshaw intercepted Brantley’s outlet pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown that changed the game in the second quarter. Upshaw later sacked Brantley and caused the injury.
Alabama was long in control by then, mostly because it stuffed Florida’s vaunted running game. The Tide made Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps look ordinary.
“Just call it a punch in the mouth and regroup,” Rainey said. “All we have to do is play the cards right and we’ll be seeing them again (in the SEC title game).”
The Gators entered the game averaging 259 yards a game on the ground, but they finished with 15 yards, 4 from Rainey and 4 from Demps.
“We did a really good job of not letting their speed outflank us,” Saban said. “Those two guys are a handful. Miss a tackle on them and they’re out the door and gone.”
The Tide was much more balanced.
AJ McCarron completed 12 of 25 passes for 140 yards — just what Alabama needs with Richardson and a stout defense.
Florida and Alabama each scored on its first two possessions. The game turned, though, on Upshaw’s interception. As Brantley was being hit, he tried to dump a pass to Trey Burton. It landed in Upshaw’s arms. He rumbled 45 yards in the other direction, with a host of defenders making sure no one caught him from behind.
The Tide forced consecutive three-and-outs after that, then turned to Richardson to put the game away. The 224-pound junior from Pensacola took a screen pass on third-and-8 from the 30, broke a tackle and got Alabama near the goal line.
Linebacker Jon Bostic, clearly frustrated with Florida’s missed tackles and failure to stop Richardson, got a personal foul penalty on the next play. He took a swing at an offensive lineman, then got an earful from Muschamp.
McCarron sneaked across the goal line to make it 24-10.
Richardson turned the 14-point game into a rout with a 36-yard scamper early in the fourth. He darted up the middle, cut right hard enough to make safety Josh Evans trip and then went untouched to the end zone.
Alabama’s defense did the rest, swarming Driskel and holding the Gators to two first downs in the second half.
“We got beat by a better team,” Muschamp said.