In 2006, the a 4–1 LSU team with a lights out defense came into Gainesville to face the undefeated Gators. Led by then Heisman candidate Jamarcus Russell, the Tigers were seen as the biggest threat to the Gators' title hopes.
The Gators' offense was rolling up to that point as well. Chris Leak was right in the middle of the Heisman hype, and Urban was starting to show signs of the "offensive mastermind" that the Gators expected when they hired him.
In the end, neither Heisman candidate quarterback mattered. The game was freshman quarterback Tim Tebow's coming out party. He threw for two scores and rushed for another in a 23–10 win. Tebow would not have another game that big all season, but the damage to opposing defensive coordinators was done.
Anytime Tebow stepped onto the field, defenses didn't know what to expect. That fear/mystique would stick with him through the end of the 2008 season.
I wrote earlier this week, that Burton and Brantley are akin to Tebow and Leak. Although this is a road game, Alabama is a bit like that 2006 LSU team. Both teams have monster offenses and defenses. If you're going to nitpick, LSU was very close to being a spread offense, while Alabama is a power rush, but that difference aside, both teams are similarly dangerous.
In 2006, the Gators surprised Miles' Tigers with Tebow. They knew he could run from the previous five games, but the non–garbage time passing was a new wrinkle. It absolutely killed LSU too.
If the Tide are able to shut down Brantley like LSU shut down Chris Leak, Meyer may have to open up the playbook for Burton in order to win. The element of surprise won't exist as Burton is no longer a secret weapon. I'm sure Saban is well aware of the history of Meyer's dual quarterback system too, but that doesn't mean the package won't work.
The trade off of Brantley for Burton is a lot of passing polish for the ability to run the option. That doesn't mean Burton can't pass, though. Alabama practiced for Florida's single wing T set, but so did every team for the last four years. Even with under the spotlight, it still scored about 50 touchdowns. The set shrinks the field for the defense, but it gives the quarterback easier reads and better blocking, which is perfect when using unpolished athletic freshmen.
On Saturday, Florida will have trouble running the ball out of conventional sets. This has been true for every team that has faced Alabama for the last three years. They have only given up 100+ rushing yards eight times since 2008, and no single back has crossed the 100 yard mark during that period.
If you're expecting a huge game from the Florida runningbacks, dial back your expectations. Florida will move the ball through the air, or failing that, through misdirection by Burton.
Last week, Arkansas was unable to find a way to move the ball on the ground. Eventually, that caught up with them, and Mallett ended up throwing away the win thanks to a trio of interceptions. Florida will fall into the same trap if they rely on Brantley to carry the offense for four quarters. That approach not only opens the door for interceptions, it keeps time on the clock for Ingram and Richardson to chew through, wear defenses down, and potentially break the game open.
If Florida is going to win, it's going to be on the ground.
Barring a miraculous breakout game from one of the runningbacks, those clock eating yards are going to have to come from the Gators' "heavy" offense with three to five yard zone reads and quick passes that set football innovation back about 75 years.
It won't be pretty and it won't be exciting, but not every game is played for style points. For the first time this season, winning ugly wins big for the Gators. It may not be the sanest bet to rely on a mostly untested freshman to come through in the clutch, but Meyer has not carved out his place amongst the coaching greats by following conventional wisdom.
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