Alabama vs. Florida: 3 Keys to the Gators Pulling off an Upset

John PattonContributor ISeptember 27, 2011

As Tennessee defenders can attest, if Chris Rainey gets a little space, he can go a long way.
As Tennessee defenders can attest, if Chris Rainey gets a little space, he can go a long way.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Through four games—all easy victories—the Florida Gators have earned very high marks on offense, defense, special teams and coaching.

Really, it is difficult—save for some secondary issues against Tennessee—to downgrade Will Muschamp's team in any fashion. They have been that good.

That said, now it's time to play with the big boys.

Alabama visits The Swamp this Saturday for a prime time, nationally televised showdown. The task is elephant-sized, but one these Gators look like they might be ready to tackle.

If I were asked to make a pick one way or the other, I would lean towards the Crimson Tide on this one. However, if Florida can do the following three things successfully, springing the upset would not be so far-fetched.

1. Give Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey Initial Space

Without question, Alabama has the best set of linebackers in the country. They are big, fast and talented. It would be a surprise if Courtney Upshaw (possibly the best player on the field—Marcell Dareus included—in last year's game), Dont'a Hightower, C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson don't eventually play on Sundays.

The Tide could be without Mosley, who injured his elbow last weekend against Arkansas. That would likely move Jerrell Harris, who plays a great deal anyway, into the starting lineup.

Florida's offensive line, tight ends, receivers and (in rare cases) fullbacks must get a body on those LBs, even if it is just to chip.

The blocks don't necessarily have to be prolonged because Demps and Rainey have such tremendous speed and quickness. Give 'em a little and they can turn it into a lot.

But it might be asking too much to ask them to jet by untouched 'Bama backers. Plus, too many clean hits could be bad for their health.

However, Demps and Rainey are scary in space—even if it isn't much space.

2. Make the Tide Offense One-Dimensional

Obviously, the preference would be to shut down Trent Richardson and the running game, forcing Alabama's inexperienced quarterbacks—A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims—to win the contest.

However, if Richardson and backup Eddie Lacy combine for 225 yards and the Gators still win, the mission has been accomplished.

But if the Crimson Tide is allowed to be balanced, it will keep UF guessing, instead of anticipating, and that could make for a tough night for the home team.

3. Get the Wide Receivers Involved

There isn't a single Gator wideout with at least 100 yards receiving this season. Deonte Thompson leads the way with 93 yards, an average of just 23.2 yards per game.

While Rainey and Demps have been magnificent both rushing and catching the ball, they can't be expected to continue carrying the offense without more contributions from the guys on the outside.

Alabama also has the best secondary in the nation, so expecting improvement this week will be a difficult task. That said, I have no doubt UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has held back many of his tricks with this game (and next Saturday at Louisiana State) in mind.

If Florida can open things up through the air early, it will spread the Tide's defense, giving more space to Demps and Rainey out of the backfield. It is tantamount for the receivers to make plays and for quarterback John Brantley to be precise with his passes.

If the Gators can follow this recipe and continue to get accuracy from placekicker Caleb Sturgis, they could pull this off and find themselves in the conversation when the country's best teams are discussed.

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