Saturday's Top 25: Young holds up, No. 1 Alabama holds off No. 11 Florida

Associated Press

Gainesville, Fla. — Bryce Young heard all about the Swamp. He knew it would be deafening at times and difficult, if not impossible, for a visiting quarterback to communicate.

He also understood the key to handling such a raucous environment: a fast start.

Young’s first collegiate road trip was a rousing success, a three-touchdown performance that helped top-ranked Alabama beat No. 11 Florida 31-29 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.

Alabama running back Jase McClellan, right, runs past Florida safety Tre'Vez Johnson (16).

“Crazy atmosphere,” Young said. “Those fans were really loud. We knew it was going to be a hostile environment coming in and they lived up to it for sure.”

The defending national champion Crimson Tide led 21-3 after the first quarter but failed to sustain its momentum and had to stop a botched 2-point conversion with 3:10 left to extend its winning streak to 17. Alabama has now won 32 in a row against teams from the SEC’s Eastern Division.

“I think the offense did a great job of answering the bell in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But our team needs to learn to maintain intensity throughout the game. … We’ve got a lot of good players. We’ve just got to get them to play a little better.”

Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has won eight straight in the series, including a wild 52-46 victory in last year’s conference title game. The Gators (2-1, 0-1) fell to 0-5 against No. 1-ranked teams at Florida Field.

This one was closer than oddsmakers and just about everyone outside of Gainesville expected, with 14 ½-point underdog Florida having a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes despite playing without dynamic backup quarterback Anthony Richardson.

Coach Dan Mullen held Richardson out as a precaution because of a strained right hamstring and said he would only be available in case of an emergency. Mullen said doctors told him Richardson “could definitely make it worse” by playing.

So Mullen went exclusively with starter Emory Jones instead of a two-QB rotation.

“I thought Emory really kind of stepped up his game,” Mullen said.

Jones completed 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards, with an interception. He was booed at times, partly because of the slow start and surely because of the home crowd’s disappointment in not seeing Richardson.

He was at his best late, directing a 99-yard drive in the third quarter and a 75-yarder that nearly knotted the game.

“I still made too many mistakes,” said Jones, who acknowledged a mistake on the 2-point conversion.

Young, meanwhile, avoided errors that typically plague young QBs on the road. He gave Alabama an early advantage with TD passes to Jase McClellan, Jahleel Billingsley and Brian Robinson.

But Florida had all the momentum late and was in position to pull off a shocker when Dameon Pierce went around the left end from 17 yards out, making it 31-29 in the waning minutes. But fellow running back Malik Davis was stopped short on the conversion after lining up on the wrong side of Jones.

“One thing a lot of teams do is play Alabama, they sometimes don’t think they’re going to win the game maybe,” Mullen said. “Our guys certainly expected to win the game and played that way. We did last year. We did this year. I think that’s maybe a big part of it.”

Florida came up short again, and many will point to a missed extra point in the third quarter as the difference. Had Chris Howard made that one, the Gators seemingly would have needed another to tie the game down the stretch.

The Gators had one final play deep in their territory and were sacked.

Young completed 22 of 35 passes for 233 yards, showing little issues in a hostile environment. The Swamp packed in 90,887 fans, the fifth most in program history and the most since 2015. The Gators hoped it would affect Young, a redshirt freshman who had never played in that kind of atmosphere.

But he handled it well.

More Saturday games

West Virginia 27, (at) No. 15 Virginia Tech 21: Jarret Doege threw two touchdown passes, Leddie Brown rushed for 106 yards and a score and West Virginia survived No. 15 Virginia Tech's furious rally from a 20-point deficit to beat the Hokies 27-21 on Saturday.

The Mountaineers (2-1) built a 27-7-point lead midway through the third quarter but saw that mostly evaporate behind Virginia Tech's Braxton Burmeister before West Virginia saved the outcome on a goal-line stand.

“Winning is hard and we talked about it before the game,” coach Neal Brown said. “I thought this was going to be a defining moment for us, for this team and where we’re at.

“I'm worn out. I feel like I've played.”

Burmeister threw for two scores, including a 29-yard TD toss to Jalen Holston with 3:10 left. Virginia Tech got the ball back with 2:11 remaining on Jermaine Waller's interception of Doege at the West Virginia 17, but Burmeister threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the 3 and the Mountaineers ran out the clock.

It was one of three Virginia Tech drives that stalled inside the West Virginia 10, with the Hokies coming away with no points.

Burmeister finished 18 of 30 for 207 yards.

“Our guys came back in the second half and really just kept fighting and scratching and clawing, and ultimately gave us the chance to win the game there,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “Our guys are pretty crushed. We’re all crushed.”

The Hokies (2-1) had allowed only three touchdowns in its first two games but gave up two quick scores to the Mountaineers, who couldn’t keep up the momentum after halftime.

West Virginia doesn't have a reputation for fast drives but jumped ahead 14-0 less than 6 minutes into the game.

Brown, who had five touchdowns entering the game but had been limited to 104 rushing yards, went 80 yards up the middle for a score on West Virginia’s second play from scrimmage.

The Mountaineers needed only three plays on their next drive, which was helped by a hands-to-the-face call on Virginia Tech linebacker Keshon Artis. On the next play, Doege found Bryce Ford-Wheaton in the end zone into double coverage from 29 yards out.

After West Virginia extended the lead to 24-7 in the second quarter on Doege's 16-yard TD throw to Sam James and a short field goal by Casey Legg, Raheem Blackshear returned a kickoff 78 yards to the West Virginia 22. But John Parker Romo missed a short field goal try just before halftime.

Burmeister overcame a sack to throw three straight completions at the end of the third quarter, and his 25-yard scramble on third down set up Raheem Blackshear's 20-yard scoring run at the end of the third quarter to close the gap to 27-14.

Doege finished 15 of 26 for 193 yards and West Virginia outgained the Hokies 318-308.

More Top 25 games

► (At) No. 7 Texas A&M 34, New Mexico 0: Zach Calzada threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. The victory extends A&M’s winning streak to 11 games and gives the Aggies a 3-0 start for the first time since opening the 2016 season with six consecutive wins.

Calzada was thrust into the job last weekend against Colorado when Haynes King was injured on A&M’s second possession. King had surgery this week to repair a broken right leg, leaving Calzada to run the offense.

More: Michigan (3-0) plays six quarterbacks in 63-10 rout of Northern Illinois

More: MSU improves to 3-0 with 38-17 road win against No. 24 Miami

Calzada looked more comfortable, and the Aggies moved the ball much better Saturday than last week while scoring just 10 points in a win over the Buffaloes. They eclipsed their total points from that game in the first six minutes of this one and built a 24-point lead by halftime.

Terry Wilson, a transfer from Kentucky who had 559 yards passing in the first two games, threw for just 33 yards Saturday for New Mexico (2-1) while being hurried and harassed all day.

No. 16 Coastal Carolina 28, (At) Buffalo 25: Grayson McCall threw for three touchdowns, Shermari Jones ran for 149 yards and another score.

McCall, who entered the day leading the nation in passing efficiency and completion rate, was 13 of 19 for 232 yards with his first interception of the season. Jaivon Heiligh caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown for the Chanticleers (3-0), becoming the fourth receiver in school history to surpass 2,000 career yards.

Buffalo (1-2) got within a field goal with 2:41 remaining. Kevin Marks’ 7-yard touchdown run capped a 92-yard drive that started when Logic Hudgens intercepted McCall in the end zone. But the Chanticleers held on.