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Florida Football: Forget Georgia, How Do the Gators Match Up with Alabama?

Florida RB Mike Gillislee
Florida RB Mike GillisleeRonald Martinez/Getty Images
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 25, 2012

After stumbling to a 6-6 regular season in his first year in 2011, Florida head coach Will Muschamp has built the Gator program back to national relevance in a hurry in 2012.

On the heels of a stout defense and a punishing running game, the Gators will face off against the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend in Jacksonville with a No. 2 ranking in front of their name and a the SEC East title within reach.

But that may not be enough for Florida fans. 

A defense that gives up only 282 yards per game and a rushing attacked at averages 212.71 yards per game has Gator Nation thinking SEC title.

Standing in their way could be the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, a team that prevented the Gators from going to back-to-back BCS National Championship Games in 2009, and sent the program into the rut that it is currently climbing out of.

So how does this Gator team matchup up with the mighty Crimson Tide?

As far as how much they've been tested, very well. In fact, better.

Based on resume, Florida should be the top team in the country. Road wins at No. 20 Texas A&M and Tennessee, combined with home wins over No. 6 LSU and No. 13 South Carolina have forced the Gators to evolve from mystery to battle-tested in a short two-month span.

Florida currently ranks third in the SEC in turnover margin at 1.57, and if you're going to beat Alabama, you have to force the Crimson Tide offense into mistakes—something that isn't easily done. The Gator defense is fast and physical, and if there's any team in the country that can put shut down the Tide, it's Florida.

The big question with Florida is its offense, which has been incredibly one-dimensional in 2012. The Gators currently rank last in the SEC in passing offense with an average of 137.7 yards per game—17 yards per game behind 13th place Auburn.

But that's not necessarily a knock against the Gators and quarterback Jeff Driskel. Florida's passing attack has been lagging behind this season because Muschamp's plan to run the ball and play defense has been a resounding success.

The Gators are one-dimensional because they haven't had to show the second dimension yet.

Much like Florida, Alabama forces mistakes by putting pressure on the quarterback. Driskel hasn't proven that he can be calm under pressure, but there's nothing to suggest that can't be. He just hasn't had the opportunity.

Because of the unknown, you have to assume that Alabama can slow Florida's passing attack down, especially considering the Tide is giving up a mere 136.9 yards per game through the air this season.

But it doesn't change the fact that this Florida team looks a lot like the 2008 Alabama Crimson Tide, which ran the table in the regular season before losing to Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

Running the football was the foundation of that Tide team. Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram each finished in the top 10 in rushing that season with averages of 98.79 and 52 yards per game, respectively.

Florida running back Mike Gillislee has rushed for 93.14 yards per game this season, with quarterback Jeff Driskel adding 45.86 yards per game as well. Those two players are a big reason why Florida is averaging almost 70 rushing yards per game more than they did last season.

Defensively, the 2008 Crimson Tide team improved from 345.5 yards per game to 263.5 yards per game in Nick Saban's second year as head coach. That defense has been the foundation of the program ever since, which has been the case with Florida for quite some time.

Does that mean that the 2012 Florida Gators match up well with this Alabama team? There are only a few teams that can match up athletically with the Crimson Tide, and Florida is one of them.

If Driskel can emerge as a threat in the passing game, don't discount the possibility of the Gators giving the Crimson Tide all that they can handle (and perhaps more) if the two traditional powers meet in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1. 

 

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