For the past two seasons, the Gators of Florida and the Crimson Tide of Alabama have met in the SEC Championship game, not only to decide the conference champion, but ultimately the national champion as well. In 2008, the Gators wore down the Crimson Tide as Tim Tebow lead two fourth quarter touchdown drives to punch Florida’s ticket to the national championship game against Oklahoma. In 2009, Alabama turned the tide on Florida, dominating the Gators as no team has in the Urban Meyer era, 32-13. This put the Crimson Tide in the national championship game against Texas. This Saturday’s game will not put the Gators or the Crimson Tide into the national championship game, but the winner will control their own destiny not only in the SEC but also in the chase for the BCS championship game.
When Florida visits Tuscaloosa this Saturday, one thing can be guaranteed; Alabama and Florida will both be ready to go. If one believes that Coach Saban is the top coach in the country, that same person will have Meyer at number two. And the same holds true for those who believe Meyer is the best coach. Neither team is perfect, but the wholes in these two teams are few and far between.
Florida’s Offense vs. Alabama’s Defense
The story of the week has been Florida freshman Trey Burton, who broke Tim Tebow’s record by scoring six touchdowns against the Kentucky Wildcats. Burton ran five times for 40 yards and five touchdowns and caught five passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Not to be outdone, the freshman QB also completed his only pass of the season; a 42 yard connection with sophomore Omarius Hines. In the “Oh, by the way” category, Alabama cannot overlook junior Jeff Demps, who is averaging 6.9 per carry. The bad news for the Gators is Demps’s status is unknown for Saturday’s game with a sprained foot. If Demps is not able to go, Florida will need senior Emanuel Moody to get on track. Moody is averaging a miniscule 3.7 per carry with no touchdowns so far.
Red shirt junior John Brantley, who takes over under (or behind) center for Florida legend Tim Tebow, will face the best defense that he has faced in his young career. In his first year as the primary signal caller, Brantley in completing 64 percent of his passes, throw for 700 yards and six touchdowns, and has only surrendered one interception. Brantley’s passer rating is a respectable 131.23.
One can bank on Meyer using the run game to help ease Brantley into the game, even if Demps cannot go.
The Gator’s vertical passing game finally came to life last week in the Swamp against Kentucky. Lead by junior wide receiver Deonte Thompson’s five catches for 86 yards and senior Carl Moore, who grabbed four balls for 72 yards.
Florida, who seems to have fixed their center quarterback exchange, is going to have to rely on their talented offensive line to get the running game going against the Tide’s defense, because the Crimson Tide will figure out a way to stop a one dimensional offense. The O-line also will need to continue to protect Brantley, who has only been sacked twice in four games. Florida cannot go back to their horizontal passing game, because even in their youth, the Bama secondary will come up and make plays. Arkansas exploited blown coverages down field, and if the Gators are thinking upset, they will need to make plays down the field.
Alabama will counter with the number one scoring defense in the country. While the Crimson Tide defense has bent a lot thus far, they have rarely broken, forcing nine turnovers and only surrendering 3 touchdowns in four games. In a sharp contrast to last season, the Alabama defense is only averaging one sack and three tackles for loss in 2010. Alabama’s strength has been getting off the field. Opponents are only converting 27% (15-56) on third and long, including limiting Ryan Mallett and Arkansas to 2-10 on third down.
Alabama is going to need Marcel Dareus to make plays and force Florida to double team him. After missing the first two games due to suspension, Dareus has only two tackles, one tackle for loss, no sacks, and no QB hurries. Look for Saban to move stud line backer, red shirt sophomore Dont’a Hightower, down to generate more of a pass rush in passing situations. Even though the secondary was exploited in the first half by the Razorbacks and Ryan Mallett, they redeemed themselves in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, picking off two Mallett passes in the waning minutes. One to set up the go ahead score and one seal the game for the Crimson Tide.
The Crimson Tide Offense vs. the Gator Defense
Alabama continued a disturbing trend from last season as they have struggled with scoring touchdowns in the red zone. This is particularly perplexing because no team can match Alabama’s talent in the backfield. Running backs sophomore Trent Richardson and junior Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram have been dominating teams, combining for 90 carries, 664 yards (7.48/carry) and eight touchdowns. Expect to see a heavy dose of Richardson and Ingram when Bama enters the red zone against the Gators.
Fifth year senior QB Greg McElroy, despite his struggles in the red zone, continues to have an impressive season. Through four games, McElroy has thrown for 899 yards with a 70.9 completion percentage. He also has thrown seven touchdowns against three interceptions. McElroy will look to junior playmaker Julio Jones when he drops back to pass. Jones leads the Crimson Tide with 20 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns. Teams cannot give too much attention to Jones however, because Alabama has deep threat Marquise Maze, slot receiver Darius Hanks, and tight end Preston Dial. The trio has combined for 28 receptions for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Both Hanks (17.9) and Maze (16.1) are averaging more than 16 yards per reception.
The Gators defense has been very impressive so far, and they have forced 14 turnovers in four games. Lead by defensive backs Ahmed Black, Will Hill and Janoris Jenkins, Florida’s secondary is second to none. They have the ability to make Alabama one dimensional, which will give the Gators a chance at the upset in Tuscaloosa. In order to make Alabama one dimensional, the Gators will need to get pressure with their front four. Junior defensive linemen Jaye Howard, who leads the Gators with two sacks, will need to be big all game for the Gators. Linebackers Jelani Jenkins (Fr), Jonathan Bostic (So), and AJ Jones (Sr) will need to be stout in the middle of the Florida defense and get to Richardson and Ingram before they get going.
So, What Will Happen?
The game being in Tuscaloosa is a huge advantage for Alabama. Teams just tend to play better on their home turf. The crowd noise alone keeps quarterbacks from checking out of a bad play or forcing a time out. This game is strength on strength match-up with Alabama’s offense going against the Gator’s defense. I expect the Crimson Tide to get the best of this battle with a heavy dose of Ingram and Richardson. On the other side, I expect things to be a little closer. I think Florida will find some offensive success, as Arkansas did, in the first half, but with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Bama’s defense will rise to the occasion.
Florida Gators 21 at Alabama Crimson Tide 34