Head coach Nick Saban has quite the task ahead of him this weekend in Gainesville.
In Alabama's first road conference of game of the season, Will Muschamp will be looking to derail the Crimson Tide's national championship hopes while in search of a signature win in his first year as Florida's head coach.
The last few installments of the Florida-Alabama series have been hinged on Florida's offense vs. Alabama's defense. However, now that the battle is more balanced, every possession will matter in what will be the fourth straight year these two teams have played each other— two consecutive times in the SEC Championship game and in the regular season last year.
The Tide is 2-1 in those three games.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, or the Swamp, is one of the most hostile enviroments in the nation for visiting teams.
The Swamp will be rocking for this game. I don't think I'm out of line in saying this crowd will be more raucous than the Whiteout at Penn State.
The first quarter is going to be a big key in this part of the gameplan. The Tide has to get an early stop on defense and follow it up with a touchdown to put the crowd in shock. Whether the idea is to be methodical and efficient on offense and punish the defense or to go for the big play and knock the defense on its heels, this has to be executed.
If you noticed against Arkansas, Alabama did this by going with the hurry up offense for the entire drive on its first possession. Doing something like this is exactly what Alabama needs to do to gain an early edge, which is crucial on the road in the SEC.
Jeff Demps is one of the fastest players in all of college football, and has proven that time and time again in his career with the Gators.
Throughout the Urban Meyer era in Gainesville, FL, the Gator football program was a big believer in one major recruiting philosophy: Speed kills. Muschamp is reaping the benefits, having play-making speedsters like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey at his disposal for this game.
Nevertheless, the Alabama defense has done a good job of stopping Florida's speed in recent years. Rainey and Demps combined for 16 rushing yards while not getting a single reception or touchdown in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, a 32-13 Alabama victory.
In the regular season matchup in Tuscaloosa last season, the electrifying Demps was held to 47 rushing yards and again was without a touchdown in the 31-6 loss.
Now that Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are in town, the system is different from the one that was run in those two wins, but you can guarantee that the goal is still the same: Get your playmakers the ball and let them work.
The Tide will have to adjust to different tactics and looks, but keeping Demps and Rainey in a cage will still be focus No. 1 on defense.
Trent Richardson's punishing running style is going to be important in Saturday's game.
There is no secret that Alabama is much more physical than its opponent this week. Florida is known for speed, so Alabama has to neutralize that speed with a fierce power game. That means letting Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy run behind an imposing offensive line and let them wreak havoc on the Gator defense.
A powerful running attack can also give the Tide an advantage if this game is highly contested going into the fourth quarter. If the two-headed monster of Richardson and Lacy are able to pound the linebackers and secondary on a play-in-play-out basis, the fatigue will set in and the fourth quarter can be easily won by the Crimson Tide over a Florida defense that is sucking wind.
Alabama will need more catches like this one from Marquis Maze to win in Gainesville.
It sounds like an overly easy thing to gameplan for, but it's smaller things like dropped passes that keep teams from winning SEC games at home, much less on the road. Third downs will be especially important in this case.
Third down conversions are what win ball games on the road. When the defense thinks it has the stop and the crowd is throwing everything out there to make sure their offense can come back on the field, if you can manage to find a wide receiver for a first down, that play could deflate the defense and the crowd just enough to sneak off a big play for a touchdown.
Courtney Upshaw is a key part of this year's linebacker unit. He suffered an elbow injury against Arkansas and is day-to-day.
Alabama's linebackers have been putting on a show this season and that has to continue. This linebacker corps held both North Texas and Arkansas to yards-per-carry of under 1 yard. And that doesn't even mention the -9 yards that Alabama held Kent State to on the ground.
That trend needs to continue against the Gators. The combination of the speed that Florida has from the Urban Meyer era combined with the pro system that Charlie Weis is implementing makes the threat of a prolific running game a serious one, and one that linebackers coach Sal Sunseri needs to take seriously.