Perfect? No, but Bryce Young's Florida experience was an invaluable one
Bryce Young, in his first true SEC road environment, had to fight.
He had to fight the fifth-largest crowd in the history of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. He had to fight a Florida defense who sent blitzes anywhere from Fort Lauderdale to Tallahassee. He even had to fight the clock in The Swamp, which picked about the worst time possible to crap out in the game’s final minutes.
No worries. Just poise.
Young did something that Alabama really hasn’t had to do in the last couple years — win ugly.
Don’t turn the ball over. Make smart reads on third down. Manage the game.
That last one was what Nick Saban said his 7-figure quarterback did so well on Saturday in a grind-it-out, 31-29 victory at Florida.
Perfection? Nah. Going up 18 points and nearly suffering what would’ve been Alabama’s largest blown lead since the Cam-back game in the 2010 Iron Bowl was far from perfection.
Young missed throws. He nearly threw a ball right into the arms of Florida defensive lineman Brenton Cox, who had drifted off the line of scrimmage and into coverage. Even on the great plays that Young made, it wasn’t your typical 75-yard touchdown. There was no bomb to Jameson Williams to be found, nor was there some walk-in touchdown for John Metchie.
In fact, Young made a play that was nearly identical to the touchdown he threw to Metchie in the opener. On third down, he stepped up in the pocket and moved to his right to avoid pressure, and as he often does, the Alabama quarterback uncorked a perfect pass to Metchie deep downfield. The only problem? Two Florida defenders were there, including All-SEC corner Kaiir Elam, who broke up the pass.
After everything went according to plan in the first quarter, it was that kind of day for Young.
Instead, it was about making the ugly plays. Er, the smart plays.
Like, when on the first drive of the fourth quarter, Alabama was up 28-23 and it looked like Bill O’Brien’s 3rd-and-3 play call ran out of options. Young, somehow, scrambled and pitched it to Cameron Latu to move the chains.
Bryce Young got creative on this one. pic.twitter.com/2PW4BSfLNp
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 18, 2021
Chunk play? Nope. Heisman Trophy moment? Hardly. Winning play? Absolutely.
Young was mostly held in check on Saturday. He did what you’d expect any quarterback to do in that raucous atmosphere. There were pre-snap miscues and miscommunications on the offensive line.
And that happened well before the stadium clock decided to take a late-afternoon nap.
Young was awake, and aware, of the type of game needed by him.
That’s not to say he was totally satisfied. CBS Sports cameras caught him visibly frustrated with those issues, and at halftime, you could see the frustration on his face as he stopped, turned around and high-fived his teammates as they entered the tunnel.
Let’s remember a couple things about Young’s true SEC road debut.
All 3 of his touchdown passes came in the first quarter. That stat line — 22-for-35 for 240 yards, 3 TDs and 0 interceptions — was far from ideal, given what we’ve come to expect from the quarterback position in Tuscaloosa. This was an Alabama team who had scored at least 31 points in each of its last 28 games entering Saturday.
If you’re underwhelmed by what Young did on Saturday, that might have something to do with it.
That’s as hostile of an atmosphere as Young will face … ever? Yeah, ever.
(No, that’s not a shot at Auburn or LSU. Young’s first real Iron Bowl/Death Valley experience will be memorable. But Saturday’s crowd in Gainesville was second to none.)
Florida was a Young mistake away from winning that game. That could’ve come in a variety of forms. Taking his eyes off a snap, pre-determining a throw, failing to sense backside pressure, etc. You name it. When you can’t even hear yourself think, one would think those types of plays would come at some point.
In a strange way, Young’s performance was almost that of A.J. McCarron. He responded with a touchdown drive when Florida made it a 1-score game late, and when the Gators responded with a touchdown of their own, well, Young didn’t fumble any hand-offs when the Tide put the game on ice.
As great as the Heisman Trophy favorite has been in an extremely limited sample size at Alabama, there was no guarantee that Young was going to be lights out on the road. Not all 5-star quarterbacks are. Ask Bo Nix about that.
And shoot, as great as Mac Jones was in his 1-year plus as Alabama’s starter, let’s not forget that he threw 2 pick-sixes in the 2019 Iron Bowl, which was his only major road test against a ranked team in front of a full capacity crowd.
Young has a ways to go to be in the same upper echelon that Jones reached, but Saturday was absolutely a step in that direction. He didn’t have some all-world ground game to turn to — Florida held a 245-91 rushing advantage at day’s end — and there wasn’t someone like DeVonta Smith who could get separation seemingly at will.
Maybe those things will come back to bite Alabama later in the season. Perhaps there will be a time in which, dare I say, Alabama is facing a late deficit and Young is needed to put together a 2-minute drill. That’s a pretty foreign concept for Alabama these days. For now, though, surviving Saturday was everything.
Young’s legacy has plenty more chapters to be written. Time will tell just how happy of an ending it has.
Saban learned a lot about his quarterback on Saturday. Resiliency, Young’s got. Room for improvement, he’s got, too.
Above all else? He left a fight in The Swamp with the only thing that mattered.