Prior to the start of the season, anyone who would have predicted 'Bama to be undefeated and playing in the SEC Championship Game this season has to be either a delusional 'Bammer who thinks they are going all the way each and every year, or that person has to be the best long-shot gambler the college football world has ever seen.
At best, most thought 'Bama would come away with nine wins and second place in the division. No one that I know had 'Bama picked to win the Western Division, but oh, how the tables have turned!
I credit much of the success this season to the difference in attitudes that have been displayed on and off the field. Players are actually finishing the routes on all plays. The team is working as a complete unit.
And, now, finally toward the end of the season, Alabama is clicking on all cylinders, playing all four quarters, and playing solid football on offense, defense, and special teams.
'Bama has ended all streaks that were against them: two woeful years to Mississippi State, not to mention not scoring an offensive touchdown on State since 2004, a five game skid to the Bayou Bengals of LSU, and, finally, the six-in-a-row to hated rival Auburn. They also won games in November…all four of them!
The scores have been settled, business has been handled, and now a classic match-up with the Florida Gators takes me back in time to somewhere in the mid-1990s when it was almost a given that these two would square off when December rolled around.
Florida has been the “hot” team as of late. There is no doubt why the Gators, even as a one-loss, lower ranked team, come into this battle as a ten-point favorite. They have won the past five games by at least 30 points each time, including wins over rival Florida State and handing former head coach Steve Spurrier the worst loss of his carrier.
Oh, and did I mention that two of the conference’s premier coaches will face-off for the first time ever?
Wow, this is going to be a game for the ages!
'Bama Will Win If…
1) The offensive line can dominate, and take advantage of Florida’s woes, thus controlling the clock and keeping Florida’s offense on the sideline.
The Tide offensive line has been great this year, and there is little doubt why.
If my memory serves me correctly, center Antione Caldwell, senior and co-captain, has started at all five positions on the offensive line during his career.
His experience at each position, along with the fact that he has been a starter since his freshman days, provides leadership and guidance for the big uglies up front, and he anchors what many consider the best offensive line in the nation.
The left side has been our strong side all year, with All-American Andre Smith pancaking and making holes that even I could run through at times. There is no wonder this guy is in the top-10 of the NFL’s underclassman making the draft. This giant of a man is hard for any defensive lineman to get around.
Now that defenses have started keying and sending extras to the left side, we are witnessing some great play calling from the booth, with Coffee and Co. running counter plays to the right side.
This has allowed our talented backfield to run behind the much-improved Drew Davis, just like the play that broke the Auburn game open when Coffee rumbled for 41 yards and the game’s first touchdown.
Factor in that Florida is banged up on the defensive line and this could spell trouble for the much-improved Gator defense from just a year ago. The news of Gator defensive lineman sustaining injuries has been front and center for several weeks now.
Defensive tackle Matt Patchan is done for the year after suffering a torn medial collateral ligament. The proclaimed “comeback player of the year,” DT Brandon Antwine, who had been a key backup player for the Gator defense, is also out for the year after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament tare.
The good news for Florida is that DT Lawrence Marsh has just been deemed 100 percent healthy, thus putting the starting interior defensive line intact again, and ready for this week’s colossal clash up front. Will it be enough to slow the threatening rush attack of the Tide?
2) The Tide play their game.
Several things must happen throughout the course of the year for a team to go undefeated, and so far all of those things have come for Alabama.
First, to continue undefeated a team cannot make foolish mistakes.
Now I’m not saying 'Bama has been perfect this year, but their record is. As a team, overall, they are perfect. That may all fall apart come Saturday, but I have witnessed this team go through the season with very few penalties. In fact, they average just four penalties a game for an average of 35 yards per contest.
Only three times in 12 games have the Crimson Tide committed more penalties than their opponents. Those games were Tulane, Kentucky, and Mississippi. In all three games they struggled.
Penalties can be huge; they can be game changers. If 'Bama can eliminate the penalties, they will do just fine.
Second, to continue undefeated a team cannot turn the ball over.
Again, only three times this season has the Tide committed more turnovers than they have gotten from their opponents. In fact they are plus-nine in turnover ratio this season. A good team doesn’t turn the ball over, and they take advantage of their opponents by taking the ball away.
Florida knows this very well, also, as they are great in the turnover ratio. In fact, they are making everyone else look like amateurs at taking the ball away and keeping it to themselves with a whopping plus-21 turnover ratio! Let there be no questions, Florida will take it if 'Bama gives it up, something that may be key to this game.
A third factor that helps, but is not something you can practice for nor can you predict is the injury factor.
Alabama has been very lucky to have come through the season with as few injuries as they have, and with the slight degree of severity of the few they have sustained. 'Bama looks healthy, and Florida is a bit worn. Can this play into the game come Saturday?
'Bama Will Lose If…
1) Florida is able to utilize their world-class speed.
It is no big secret that Florida has speed at every position. It is no big secret that when the pocket collapses, Tim Tebow will carry the weight of the team upon his shoulders. It is no big secret that the backfield has stepped up tremendously this season to help Tebow carry the running game.
It is no big secret that Harvin will touch the ball and sprint toward the end zone at some point.
Florida has the speed to run all over the defense of the Crimson Tide if the Tide doesn’t step up and stop it. Plain and simple, the Tide must stop the speed or it will be a long night in the ATL.
The utilization of a 3-4 defense, with Terrance Cody basically serving as nearly two men up front, has made the difference for the Tide’s defensive attack the season. Using four linebackers to keep things boxed in and contained from one sideline to the other has been a stronghold and will be needed perhaps more than anything else this week.
If the speed gets to the corners, watch out!
All the speed in the speed in the world will not do you any good if it is contained and shut down. That’s when the true skill of the players must arise. This will be a test to see if the Tide defense or the Gator offense wants it more on Saturday.
'Bama will hit, and hit hard, but will it be enough to slow this lethal Gator speed?
2) Florida’s defense and special teams outplay Bama’s.
The special team play of the Gators has been a significant part of the success Florida has had this year. As previously mentioned, the defense has turned the corner and has learned how to play solid football as well. When you throw that in it is hard to stop a team.
However, I believe if you can seriously disrupt one facet of the game, other parts will suffer and things will go south. If you start making big plays on special teams, it will affect the offense or defense.
For example, the defense has had a strong stop, but the special teams fumbles the punt, then the defense goes right back out there and must do it all over again. That puts pressure on the defense, a lot of pressure.
On the other hand, if a defense gives up a long play to get a team in field goal range and then the special teams steps up and blocks the field goal, then the defense is bailed out and can be rejuvenated.
I believe that some scenario like this could play out and be a huge factor in which way the game swings. Florida has been great on special teams this year, while 'Bama has struggled at times. If Florida executes and takes advantage, 'Bama will be hurting.
Who Wants it More
I believe the difference in the game will be determined at the line of scrimmage. 'Bama has been deadly with the lines, on both sides of the ball, all season.
Can they continue to make holes for their tandem of running backs?
Will they continue to give John Parker Wilson the time he needs to make passes?
Or, will the Gator defense penetrate and shut down the Tide’s offense?
Can the Gator offensive line step up and push Cody, McClain, Johnson, and the rest of the Tide defense all around the field?
I believe the game will come down to whoever makes the biggest play, which will be determined by which line steps up and allows that play to be made.
One last thing to add. For what it it worth, the Tide has already been to the GA Dome once this year. That might help, just slightly, to giving 'Bama some kind of edge.
The time for talk is over. We will see who wants it more this Saturday. Best of luck to both teams, with a little extra in Bama’s favor!
It has all been laid out on the line. Whoever wants needs to come and get it. The winner moves on the BCS Championship game in Miami, while the loser goes to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl bout.
I do believe that 'Bama will control the defensive line of Florida enough to get the running game going, which in turn will make Florida play honest to the run and open up the passing game.
I believe that other teams have tried to utilize three defensive linemen to stop Florida all season, by freeing up extra linebackers. However, 'Bama has been doing this all season. It is what they know and do each week.
I think McClain, Reamer, and Hightower will control everything and keep it from going north and south. The speed in my opinion will be slowed down.
The passing game will have to win it for Tebow and the Gator gang, but I think Rashad Johnson and the defensive backs will step up and make some plays. Toss in a couple of corner blitzes and you have a Tide upset!
Bama 30 Florida 28
For the other side, check out Michael the Gator's take on how he thinks Florida will do in this classic showdown.