Alabama was up 17-0 and having lots of fun at Florida's expense midway through the second quarter last Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium when Gators quarterback John Brantley took a snap and headed right on an option play.
What Brantley didn't realize was that Crimson Tide junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw had blown into Florida's backfield and was behind him in an instant. Upshaw stuffed Brantley for a 1-yard loss before the quarterback had time to decide whether to hold or pitch the ball.
"I was coming from the backside hoping that he would keep it so I could get a hit on him," a smiling Upshaw said. "He kept it, and I made a play."
Upshaw's stop forced a third-and-11 for the Gators from their 27-yard line, and Brantley had a pass intercepted by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on the ensuing play. Alabama capitalized with some trickery, a 19-yard touchdown pass from Marquis Maze to tight end Michael Williams, and cruised to a 31-6 victory.
The Tide defense recorded eight lost-yardage tackles against the Gators, and Upshaw was responsible for four. Monday, the Southeastern Conference tabbed the 6-foot-2, 263-pounder from Eufala, Ala., its defensive player of the week.
"We put him out on the edge and played a little more 3-4 and nickel than we usually do," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We had some nice pressures. He's finally healthy, probably for the first time really all year, and he had a productive night."
With two working ankles, who knows where Upshaw will go from here?
Upshaw was among the slew of promising new Tide defensive starters who had shown plenty of glimpses during last season's run to the BCS national championship. He returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in last year's win at Kentucky, and his biggest play was the recovery of a Garrett Gilbert fumble at the Texas 3-yard line with 3:02 remaining that sealed Alabama's win in the BCS title tilt.
Yet his 2010 season took a quick spill when he sprained his right ankle midway through the opening romp over San Jose State.
"It was really frustrating," Upshaw said. "I thought about how it could have been the end of my season had it been more serious. Luckily, it was just a high-ankle sprain. This was the first game where I felt close to 100 percent."
Running down Brantley was Upshaw's first lost-yardage stop last Saturday, and his second occurred on the following possession when he stuffed tailback Emmanuel Moody for a 3-yard loss. Florida took its first drive of the second half inside Alabama's 10-yard line, but Upshaw helped force the Gators to settle for a field goal by dropping Moody for a 2-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 5.
When the Gators drove to Alabama's 1 at the end of the third quarter, Upshaw recovered a Brantley fumble that had been caused by Kirkpatrick.
"We saw what we always see from Courtney in practice," fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "He's one of those guys who knows what he has to do, and he's considered one of the vets now. I feel like he did a great job, but he did exactly what we expected him to do."
Upshaw made seven tackles against the Gators, which matched his tackle total through the first four games. He said his days being injured are over - "Nothing is going to keep me out anymore," he said - and is excited about what Alabama's defense can accomplish.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing nine points per game, entering this week's trip to No. 19 South Carolina.
"We've grown up a lot, especially dealing with what we dealt with at Arkansas and all the talk about our secondary," Upshaw said. "I think we've answered a lot of questions, but I think we've got a lot to correct. We've got to come out and dominate.
"I know that I always want to dominate the person in front of me."