GAME: #7 Florida at #1 Alabama
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Capacity 101 000
Where can I watch: CBS at 8pm (eastern)
This game could very well be the “gran daddy” of the regular season. Ever since last year’s SEC Championship game, which pitted the #1 and #2 teams in the nation for the second consecutive year in a de facto national semi final, the players, fans, and media circled October 2nd on their calendar. This is the game of the year in the SEC. Not so much because it will determine who will play for the league title, because whoever loses is still very much in the hunt for the SEC crown, but because this has become one of the most intense rivalries of late. Florida and Alabama have stood in each other’s road to the National Title each of the past 2 years and this season is no different. In fact, it is not a long shot that they meet for a second time later this year in Atlanta, home of the SEC championship game in another de facto national semi final.
This time around Alabama is a heavy 9 point favorite to win. This is based on the impressive offensive output of the Crimson Tide and the home factor. This offense is spearheaded by a two horse backfield. Simply put, running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are beasts, men amongst boys, terrors with a football, horses you can ride all day long. Alabama will ride them as long and as far as they can go this season. To keep teams honest Nick Saban deploys potential All America WR Julio Jones out wide and QB Greg McElroy is asked to not lose a game rather than win it. He is the quintessential game manager. So far this season the Crimson Tide has looked impressive in every game they have played and seem poised to run the table this season. Despite a challenging schedule, they remain the favorites to win it all.
Florida on the other hand started off extremely slow out of the gate. If it wasn’t for a blowout win last week over Kentucky, a game that seems to have energized the team, coaching staff and fans, many would be talking of a probable blowout this Saturday. To many, the Gators are simply overmatched on all fronts and cannot contend with the Tide on their home turf. Florida has enough talent and athleticism to play with anyone, anywhere, but as Coach Meyer said this week, they do not have the experience that some other teams have and that is their main disadvantage this weekend. This will be only the second SEC road game start for many UF player, including the starting and backup QBs, starting TE, and several receivers, and not to mention the young defense. Asking a team whose roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores to go into the house of the #1 team in the country and win is quite the assignment.
What I love about this game, aside from the fact that it pits two familiar teams who are more talented than just about anyone in the nation, is that it could really unfold in several ways. Alabama could blow out Florida. Florida could win this if they limit the run and force McElroy into mistakes and exploit the vulnerable Tide secondary. This game could be a defensive struggle because both defenses have shown they can take over games. Just as easily it could turn into a shootout because both offenses are equipped with playmakers at multiple positions. This uncertainty makes for an interesting contest.
There will be a lot of chess playing between Meyer and Saban all week long and especially on Saturday. Meyer has already announced that Florida will use its “heavy package”, 5 D linemen formation, to try and slow down the two Crimson tanks. Saban must be working on a counter as I type. In any case, this game should be a great one as it unfolds, no matter how it unfolds. In the end the winner will have an inside track to the SEC championship game, but the loser will by no means be out of any championship discussion.
FLORIDA WINS IF
They can limit the damage of the Bama ground game. It will be impossible to “stop” the run game altogether, so Florida will want to limit 1st down runs to a minimum and thus force more favorable down and distance scenarios. They will have to rattle McElroy when they get the chance and create a couple of turnovers. When Florida has the ball they need to sustain long drives that keep the Alabama offense off the field. Alabama is vulnerable against the pass and Florida must exploit that. If Brantley can spread the ball between Thompson, Moore, Hines, Burton, Reed, Debose, Hammond and keep them involved, then they will give the young secondary more than they can handle. Florida needs to win the battle of field position; therefore they need to play a great game on special teams. The young Gator linebackers must play their best game and be sure tacklers on Ingram and Richardson.
ALABAMA WINS IF
They impose themselves on the ground and thus chew the clock, wear down the Florida defense and continuously move the chains on long drives. McElroy makes more big plays than mistakes. They win the turnover battle.
I will go against the grain here, albeit with little confidence, and pick the Gators in a shocker. You heard it here first; Florida will win this one down the stretch, by a measly field goal. “How will that happen?” you must be thinking. The Gators will get a big boost from special teams, a big play; either a big return or a block will provide a timely momentum boost. The defense will come up with a turnover or 2 and rattle the QB. Janoris Jenkins will man up most of the time with Julio Jones and contain him, thus giving his line and backers the opportunity to zero in on the RBs and QB. Trey Burton will hurt Alabama in multiply ways, but especially unexpectedly by throwing for a big play or 2. The Gator offense will silence the crowd early by marching down the field with ease as Brantly picks apart the Bama secondary most of the night with the help of his improving WR corps. The Gator “hogs” at DT; Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter, Sharrif Floyd, Terron Sanders, Brandon Antwine, Dominique Easley will be rotated often and remain fresh and manage to hold their own as a group on the frontline. The O-Line will perform and give Brantley the time he needs to excel. The Gators will take an early lead and then hang around when Alabama makes its big push, the crowd will grow restless and Alabama will feel the pressure of having to win. A looser Florida team will prevail in the end.
Final Score: Florida 27 Alabama 24.
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Written by The Gator Great