On the Road Again – A Look at an SEC Stadium Tour

On the Road Again

How Many Miles in an SEC Stadium Tour?

The Question

In my first entry for The Bama Lighthouse, this blogger estimated how many miles the Crimson Tide team might travel throughout the 2014 season, including the SEC championship game in Atlanta, GA, and culminating in the first-ever College Football Playoff title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

The Nitty-Gritty

The street address for each SEC stadium was identified. The same was done for the Georgia Dome and the stadiums that will host College Football Playoff games. Mapquest provided all stadium-to-stadium driving distances; preference given to interstate highways. Using a regional map of the United States, a commonsense route (i.e., with minimal backtracking) connecting all SEC stadiums was chosen. Visiting one stadium per week would require 14 weeks, which fits the duration of a college-football season like a Tide receiver’s favorite Script A embellished, ball-snagging glove.

Travel to CFB playoff sites is included after the SEC stadium tour is complete.

As I write this, the current AP college football poll has three SEC teams in the top six and another five ranked between 11 and 24. (Woah!) To recognize this stunning depth of conference strength, rankings are noted next to team names. Given these rankings, including CFB playoff sites in the route is not a stretch.

SEC Stadium Tour

>> Start

Williams-Brice Stadium (South Carolina Gamecocks): 166.7 miles to

Sanford Stadium (Georgia Bulldogs, AP #13): 344.5 miles to

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Florida Gators): 314.1 miles to

Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn Tigers, AP #5): 161.1 miles to

Bryant-Denny Stadium (Alabama Crimson Tide, AP #4): 84.9 miles to

Davis Wade Stadium (Mississippi State Bulldogs, AP #12): 102.2 miles to

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (Ole Miss Rebels, AP #11): 345.8 miles to

Tiger Stadium (LSU Tigers; AP #15): 363.5 miles to

Kyle Field (Texas A&M Aggies, AP #6): 513.3 miles to

Reynolds Stadium (Arkansas Razorbacks): 309.3 miles to

Memorial Stadium (Missouri Tigers, AP #24): 434.1 miles to

Vanderbilt Stadium (Vanderbilt Commodores): 215.5 miles to

Commonwealth Stadium (Kentucky Wildcats): 170.9 miles to

Neyland Stadium (Tennessee Volunteers): 211.9 miles to

Georgia Dome, site of SEC Championship

>> End

Shortest leg: Bryant-Denny Stadium to Davis Wade Stadium – 84.9 miles

Longest leg: Kyle Field to Reynolds Stadium – 513.3 miles

Total distance – 3737.8 miles

As a point of comparison, from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge, taking I-80W, is 2914.6 miles. Mapquest notes that this is a “long trip.” (Very helpful.)

The Postseason

Our intrepid traveler, having witnessed the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta would be heading to one of the two CFB semi-final playoff sites: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, or the Superdome, site of the Sugar Bowl, in New Orleans, LA.

Georgia Dome to Rose Bowl: 2169.8 miles

Georgia Dome to Superdome: 469.9 miles

If the SEC champion is assigned to the Rose Bowl, let’s hope our road warrior has a credit card with a killer bonus-points program.

The CFB title game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Rose Bowl to AT&T Stadium: 1420.4 miles

Superdome to AT&T Stadium: 541.6 miles

So the “Rose Bowl route” comes in at 7328.0 miles, or 2.51 times across the continental US. The less arduous “Superdome route” is 4749.3 miles, which is a mere 1.62 times the coast-to-coast distance.

Time to rest

Finally, our brave SEC fan makes his – or her – way from AT&T Stadium to the SEC conference headquarters in Birmingham, AL, to rest, chow down on some famous Dreamland Bar-B-Que and get ready for the 2105 SEC Media Days. Distance from the SEC HQ to the Dreamland restaurant on 14th Avenue South? A mere 3.75 miles. Piece of cake.

Get Your Math On

As much fun as an SEC stadium tour would be, finding an optimal route among multiple destinations is a nontrivial task. The “Travelling Salesman Problem (TSP)” first appeared in business literature in 1832, with the general form of the problem being stated in 1930. TSP is an important problem in combinatorial mathematics, computer science and operations research.

If you’d like to go deeper: http://www.math.uwaterloo.ca/tsp/

I make no claim that the route I describe herein is anywhere near optimal. In a former life, I laid out routes for teams of project technicians, but my attempts paled woefully compared to those of my boss, Miss Hope, who was an absolute ninja master at getting many people and lots of equipment to the proper places at the right times. Props!

By The Way

“On the Road Again” is the title of a song written and performed by the legendary Willie Nelson. It’s from the album Honeysuckle Rose (Columbia Records, 1980), which presents the soundtrack for the movie of the same name. “On the Road Again” was a #1 country-and-western hit and reached 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song.

Here’s Willie, getting it done live: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gdlyi5mckg0

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Florida Game Review

Character. That’s the word that kept coming to mind as I watched Alabama continue to bounce back from so many self-inflicted wounds Saturday. Character.

Character is what you have to have in order to persevere through five years of football, bouncing back and forth between running back and quarterback, never really getting a chance to show anyone what you are capable of.

Character is what tells other teams the answer is “NO” when they call to recruit you away from Alabama so that you can be a starting quarterback elsewhere.

Character is what drives a man to succeed even when the whole world is convinced that he cannot. Character makes you seek out a quarterback coach in order to spend 100 hours practicing your craft, even though no one is giving you a chance to succeed.

Character allows you to bounce back with a 79 yard touchdown pass to tie the game back at 14 after a disastrous fumble allowed the Gators to take the lead.

Character is what it takes to win a game in spite of committing 11 penalties and four turnovers.

And character is what it takes to learn from a humbling firing experience and use it to springboard yourself back towards the top of the coaching tree.

Character also allows you to hire a coach when you believe in his abilities to help the team, even though the outside world will never understand the hire.

Maybe it was the ad nauseum coverage of the Jameis Winston debacle. Maybe it was my feeling of inspiration that I gained for Blake Sims (and the team as a whole) after I talked to a walk-on following the Southern Miss game. Or, maybe I kept thinking it because it’s true. Alabama had numerous chances to cave into the pressure of the game and, in some ways, it did. However, each time that Alabama was confronted with adversity, character prevailed and what could have been a terribly disappointing defeat turned into a reason for optimism and pride. Let’s go to the highlights – Roll ‘em!

Alabama on Offense

Coming into the game it was evident that Florida’s weakness on defense was in their pass defense, particularly where it involved covering players coming out of the slot. We pointed this out in the W2W4 after Kentucky exploited it throughout the second half of their game with the Gators. But, while the weakness was evident, the question was whether or not Blake Sims would have the ability to take advantage of it. Well, consider that question answered with an exclamation point after Sims rolled up 445 yards passing, hitting on 23 of 33 throws – four of which went for touchdowns. Sims began the game by showing the world that he has some deep ball skills when he hit speedy Kenyan Drake for an 87 yard bomb down the sidelines. Then, after the Gators took the lead on a disastrous DeAndrew White fumble, Sims struck again with the deep ball, this time hitting Amari Cooper deep down the middle after he’d lined up in the slot. Coop was so wide open that there were no Gators on the screen but credit Sims for putting enough air under the ball so that Coop could glide underneath it and score. It was an excellent game by Sims as he made every throw, every read and every first down. Honestly, there should be no naysayers after this performance…

Third and Sims: I saw these stats from Christopher Walsh and they are absolutely mind blowing. On Saturday’s third down attempts, Sims completed 7 of 9 throws for 95 yards and a TD. Now on the season, Sims is completing 81.5% of his throws (22 of 27) for 288 yards and two TDs! That is a ridiculous completion percentage in any circumstances but to complete 81.5% of your passes on the most critical down in football? Wow. Just wow.

In Kiffin We Trust: You all know I was not particularly sold on the Kiffin hire, as I thought he was wrong for so many reasons. Now it’s me who was wrong for so many reasons. Once again, Kiffin devised a brilliant scheme that allowed openings for some of Alabama’s very best skilled athletes. Whether it was isolating Kenyan Drake on a poor, unsuspecting linebacker or moving Cooper around to free him up for 10 catches and 201 yards and three TDs against the very best corner in college football – Kiffin was simply amazing. I especially loved how he moved his tight ends out wide to help identify if Florida was in zone or man. After racking up a ridiculous 645 yards of offense Saturday, Alabama is now averaging 588 yards of offense per game (up 144 yards per game over last year). More impressively, Nick Saban’s bizarro Tide offense is now running more plays per game than Auburn! There’s not enough space here to say all the good things that Kiffin has brought to the offense but credit him for doing a fantastic job.

Simply the Best: I hope everyone appreciates what they are seeing out of Amari Cooper on Saturdays because he’s simply one of the best we’ve ever seen at the Capstone. His route running is amazingly crisp and sharp as he always appears to be running full speed. However, on Saturday Coop showed he compliments his 4.3 speed with tenacity and strength when he snared a fade pass from the clutches of two Florida Gators (one of which was Vernon Hargreaves). But, perhaps his finest moments to his teammates came on back to back Derrick Henry toss sweeps in the third quarter as he absolutely punished the Florida safety on consecutive plays, springing Henry for big gains each time. Coop is the total package and it’s a privilege to watch him play on Saturdays.

And We’re Off: We touched on this before but sooooo much credit has to go to Kiffin for designing the first play of the game to Kenyan Drake. Good scouting told Kiffin that Florida would move their middle linebacker out there for coverage so he got the matchup he wanted. But, credit has to go back to the spring where Drake was identified as a weapon to get out into space and take advantage of both his speed and his hands. And, finally, credit has to go to Sims – did anyone know he could loft such a gorgeous deep ball? Um, yes. Kiffin did! CBS didn’t show it but Kiffin was beyond jacked when Sims and Drake connected for this bomb.

Out to Practice Early: When a player is left all by his lonesome down the field, my dad always said it looked like he was “out to practice early.” On Cooper’s bomb, I frankly have no earthly idea what the Florida safety and corner were doing but Cooper was the epitome of “out to practice early.” Evidently Muschamp didn’t know what his guys were doing either as he berated them both along the sidelines. Seriously. I have no idea what they were doing in that “coverage.”

Fumble-ayah: Lawdy mercy – fumbles, fumbles and one more fumbles. Kenyan Drake’s fumble was the result of extra effort where he exposed himself and the ball to being ripped out. While it’s still an absolute no-no, I didn’t feel it was the result of being careless with the football. No, that honor goes to my guy DeAndrew White. Going into the game, I felt it would be terribly important for White to take some of the pressure off of Cooper and with six catches for 48 yards (including three outstanding grabs) he was able to do that. However, DeAndrew was careless with De-football and was De-stripped. If this continues, he will be sitting on De-bench. Careless. Lastly, there’s Blake Sims. After carrying out a zone read fake to Kenyan Drake, Blake took off running to the right, unaware that Leon Brown (who had another dreadful game) had allowed massive penetration to Deonte Fowler and Fowler quickly relieved Sims of the football. Since Brown didn’t block for Sims on the play, perhaps he should have at least blocked Sims from taking the ass chewing he got from Coach Saban.

Tush Push: After watching Clemson’s inability to convert 3rd and shorts from the shotgun against FSU, it dawned on me that Alabama crushed the Gators in short yardage situations by sneaking Sims from under center twice on Saturday. Nothing fancy, just a snap and a push. And, just for fun, Bama even showed a little wildcat with TJ Yeldon converting two conversions for good measure, following the tush push of the middle of the line. It was a strong performance in short yardage situations against a very, very solid front 7.

Personal Jesus: For those of you who want to see anyone other than TJ Yeldon in the backfield, you should know that he serves a big purpose back there. No other back on the team picks up the blitz as good as Yeldon and he came up big on Saturday. In fact, credit should go to the entire line as the only sack they gave up was when Sims held on to the ball too long on a pump and go.

If on First You Don’t Succeed: Speaking of the pump and go, did you notice that Alabama took four deep shots on first down? The pump and go would have been a fifth deep shot. The long touchdowns to Drake and Coop were both on 1st down and Sims’ 32 yard hookup to Amari on the deep sideline fade that was called back due to an illegal formation was a first down throw, as well. Sims also fired one deep on 1st down to Jalston Fowler who had slipped out of the backfield on a wheel route.

Where’s the Beef: Did you notice how much Fowler, Vogler and Howard were used during the game? Evidently Alabama liked the personnel grouping Florida used when Bama was in a heavier package so, again, credit Lane Kiffin for finding a weakness and exploiting the heck out of it. Oh, and for extra credit, did you notice that Lane even moved Austin Shepherd next to Cam Robinson for a play? Yep!

I Need a Hero: To me, the biggest plays of the game were courtesy of Derrick Henry. For all the Sims love and the Cooper artistry, Derrick Henry delivered twice when it mattered most. The biggest play was a Henry screen reception on 3rd and 23. It was a 21-21 game in the third and Florida had just scored the tying touchdown – now Bama faced an impossible third and long. Sims flipped an innocent screen pass to Henry and he simply took over from there. First, Henry used a very average block by Arie K to his advantage, cutting back into the open field.   Next he ran thru a tackle, still 8 yards short of the first down. There he paused, allowing a Gator defender to fly past him out of bounds and suddenly it was a 29 yard gain for a first down at the Florida three yard line. Earlier, after yet another Bama penalty, Bama faced a first and goal from the Florida 13 with the game tied at 14. After a monster run by Henry it was second and goal from the 2 and Bama cashed it in for the go ahead touchdown.

Conclusion

Whew, there was soooo much to cover regarding the Alabama offense that I didn’t nearly get to all of the stuff I wanted to point out. Just know that Jalston Fowler is performing a HUGE role on this team as he’s lined up as a fullback, an H-back and a tight end. His blocking has been outstanding and of course he’s been a big weapon out of the backfield as a receiver. A long time ago I posted a video of a ridiculous catch he made in high school so it’s no real surprise he has excellent hands and has become the main end zone receiving threat on the team. Also, the entire offensive line deserves credit with the exception of Leon Brown who struggled once again. Cam Robinson lost his helmet on one play so Alphonse “Shank” Taylor game in at right guard and Leon Brown slid over to left tackle. Folks, if this ever happens for an extended period of time then you need to pray. A lot. Brown whiffed badly and showed everyone why he’s better when he’s not exposed on the edge.

Alabama on Defense

Before we get too deep into the defensive side of the ball you should know two things. First, all three Florida touchdowns came off of turnovers. Second, Jeff Driskel is not a good quarterback. Sure, he’s improved but he’s not quite ready for prime time. As a result, Florida converted only 2 of 13 third downs (Alabama converted a silly 12 of 16) and they had the ball only 20 minutes while Alabama had it the other 40. It was not a good performance for the Florida offense. As for the Bama defense, there were several good things that I really liked…

No Soup For You: You’ve heard me say it in this space a hundred times so now maybe you understand what the fuss was all about. Tony Brown, welcome to Alabama football!!!! After Gator receiver Demarcus Robinson hauled in 15 passes for over 200 yards last week, they lined him up opposite of Tony Brown throughout the game, hoping to take advantage of the true freshman. The Gators tried Brown on 8 occasions succeeding only twice for 14 yards. Oh, I do like this young fella! Saban even dialed up several corner blitzes, one of which netted Brown a tackle for loss. SWEET.

I’m Gonna Get You Sucka: Jarran Reed had one helluva game. Not only did the former Gator commit get to play Gator toss with Jeff Driskel, he also swatted down a pass and posted five tackles. With the Gators bringing a downhill running attack, Bama needed Reed to step up and boy did he deliver. Honestly, he was outstanding and as dominant at the defensive tackle position as we’ve seen.

You Found Me: Yeah, I found you Maurice Smith – for the second week in a row Smith defended the pass extremely well. The Gators threw at him six times but only completed two passes. This kid continues to shine each time he’s given an opportunity to play.

Grouplove: Props to Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland, both of whom turned in their very best performances of the year. They stuffed the solid Gators running game with hard hits throughout the game and DePriest even deflected a pass. Solid effort here. Additionally, Denzel Devall singlehandedly blew up two different running plays for losses. The ends did an awesome job stacking and shedding the tight end blocks and this subsequently blew up the bread and butter of the Gators’ offense. Can’t brag on this group enough.

Greatest American Hero: Landon Collins. Wow. He had a one handed pick and he nearly picked another. He’s a beast. He also made the defensive play of the game when he tackled the Gators for a loss and forced a punt after Bama had taken a 28-21 lead. (On the pick, did you notice Bama showed blitz and then backed out of it, only rushing three?)

You Spin Me Right Round: Poor Jabriel Washington – he was the closest defender on the first Gators touchdown but he really wasn’t that close at all. He’s a former corner so he should have the skill set to play man, however the way he threw his hands up it appeared to me that he thought he had safety help. Back when he played corner, he would have had safety help. However, when he IS the safety, there is no help. Meanwhile, I have no idea what DePriest was doing on this play. He half-heartedly “rushed” the passer when he had a huge lane to lay the smack down. Kind of a weird play all the way around. (Credit Washington for making a nice catch on his interception later in the game)

You Wreck Me: On the other touchdown, A’shawn Robinson could not defeat single blocking and watched as Driskel rushed by on his way to a 16-yard touchdown run. I simply don’t think Robinson is healthy as I’m not seeing the burst and strength he had last season. You’ll recall he suffered a knee injury in fall camp and I’m just not positive he’s 100%. And, for all the bragging I did on DePriest above, he was blocked by a pretty weak attempt by the smaller of their two running backs.

I’m the Man: After Florida came up short on a third down play, the Gators were in range for a 48 yard field goal. However, there was an ineligible man downfield penalty that Saban decided to accept, giving the Gators another third down chance at the Bama 40. This was a risky call because Saban risked giving up a first down. However a Bama blitz and a DJ Pettway pass rush forced an incompletion and a Gator punt. Nice call Coach! FYI – Saban still has never lost to one of his protégés…

Conclusion

The Gators didn’t really figure to score a bunch against Alabama and they wouldn’t have had it not been for the generosity of the Alabama offense. Alabama’s defense stacks up much, much better against run first teams so it was no wonder that they controlled the Gators throughout the game. In addition, Driskel’s inability to hit deep passes (or any passes on Saturday) made it virtually impossible for the Gators to move the ball. As a result, the offensive stats for Florida were atrocious. The Gators gained 200 yards. Bama gained 645. Florida had the ball 20 minutes. Bama had it 40 minutes. Again, had it not been for three fumbles and a pick, this game would have been a route.

Final Thoughts

This has been a write up that is bordering on a novella so I’ll try very hard to be short here. I have so much admiration for Blake Sims and it absolutely broke my heart when he was forced to leave the game due to an injured shoulder. We sit 20 rows behind the trainer’s bench and we watched as Sims took two throws and then waived off the staff, letting them know he couldn’t continue. As he left the field to a loud standing ovation, I feared that he wouldn’t be able to continue and my heart sank for him. Sims went in for treatment and then came back out to a thunderous ovation. He then threw a few more passes and gave the staff the thumbs up. The next thing he did was to congratulate Jake Coker on leading the team to a touchdown pass. That’s leadership, folks. That’s why his teammates respond to him. That’s why the staff responds to him. And I guess that’s why I responded, as well. I think you are looking at a possible slight separation of his shoulder and I fear for what another big shot on his shoulder will do. He’ll be limited this week and likely limited next week as well so hold on tight as the Ole Miss game approaches. After watching the way he had to wave off the throws after his injury, I know it’s more than a bruise. But, he’s a gamer so you know he’ll be playing until the damn thing falls off.   Love. This. Kid. Love…This…Team!

W2W4 – Alabama vs Florida

Well, after a few good appetizers like some Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle niblets, it’s now time for us to begin working on the main course.  So, how do y’all like your gator?  Blackened?  Sautéed with a little crimson vino?  Well, however you like it cooked you’d better bring a good sized bib because this one, to me, looks like it could get a little messy….

Most folks, Vegas included, seem to be a little deceived by the Kentucky game and they have installed Alabama as a 17 point favorite.  But, after watching the Kentucky v Florida game, I have to tell you that I think this game will stay within that point spread.

Before I sat down to watch the 36-30 triple overtime Gator victory, Twitter seemed divided as to whether the score was a result of Kentucky being good or just a product of Florida being bad.  So, I was very, very interested in seeing with my own eyes what the story was.  The answer?  Folks, honestly I thought Kentucky was just that good.

On offense, Kentucky struggled mightily in the first half, generating a measly three points against the fast and aggressive Florida defense.  Florida squashed the slippery KY running game and the Cats could seemingly do very little thru the air in the early going.  However, throughout the first half I noticed that the Wildcat slot receivers were getting free releases and running by the Florida safeties and I wondered why Kentucky didn’t attack the Gators here – naturally that’s exactly what Kentucky attacked in the second half.  Slot receiver Garrett Johnson hauled in a 60 yard TD and a 33 yard TD from the slot and suddenly it was a ball game.  The numerous crowd shots of the Gator fans with their puckered up sphincters were pretty spectacular…

Defensively, Kentucky seemed to bring more people at Jeff Driskel than the Scotsmen voters that hit the polls this week and more times than not they adversely affected the Gators’ quarterback.  However, new OC Kurt Roper has obviously put in a ton of time with Driskel and I’m here to tell you that the 2014 version does not resemble the dreadful 2013 or 2012 versions.  This year’s Driskel is completing short, quick throws on time and in rhythm.  He’s still a horrific downfield passer but Roper has found some short throws that Driskel can complete with regularity.  So, how will the game go?  Well, here’s what to watch for…

Alabama on Offense

If you can’t tell from the intro, I’m REALLY intrigued by this game.  This isn’t going to be one of your Saturday du jour games where it’s over at halftime.  No, this game should be tightly contested as two strong, physical teams do battle for four quarters.  Florida’s defense is fast and strong at the point of attack and they dried up the KY running game easily.  Florida’s defense is also aggressive, rolling up their corners and bringing blitzes more often than Lindsey Lohan gets blitzed.  In only two games the Gators have racked up five sacks and 20 (TWENTY!) quarterback hurries.  They love to move DE Dante Fowler (#6) around the line of scrimmage because this big 6’3, 260 lb beastie can run.  He will bring a heckuva edge rush at young Cam Robinson and Austin Shepherd so we’ll need to keep an eye out for him throughout the game.  He looks strong, too – really good player.

Florida’s linebackers are very, very fast and athletic and play in the 230 lb range so they are pretty physical, too.  They played disciplined football all night long and their only weakness appeared to be an occasional play where they over-pursued (look for some misdirections and boots in attempt to exploit their aggression).

It’s ironic that Kentucky made the bulk of their yardage through the air against the Gators’ secondary as they boast having the very best corner in the entire country in Vernon Hargreaves III (#1).  Honestly, he’s flat out awesome.  He’s been thrown at nine times this year and has given up only two catches for 16 yards.  Oh, and he’s broken up five of the passes and probably should have come down with at least two picks in the Kentucky game alone.  Kids, he’s awesome.  Now their other corner, Brian Poole (#24) is not very good and, in the second half, Kentucky beat him and the UF safeties like a rented mule.  Florida rolls their corners up tight and they keep their safeties back off of the slot receivers so Kentucky took advantage of this in the second half.  With a stout front seven and an aggressive secondary, Alabama will likely have to challenge Florida in the passing game…or will they?

Appetite for Destruction:  (Per a request, this week’s breakdown is going to feature 80s songs which seemingly is nearly the last time Florida was relevant, right?)  This week, in the early going I think you’ll actually see Alabama play a lot of two tight ends and/or use Jalston Fowler in an effort to bring Alabama’s physicality and nasty disposition to bear on the Gators.  In the off-season, Saban stated he wanted to get back to that famous physically dominant style of play that people feared, and since Florida’s defensive ends are around 260 lbs that’s a possible weak spot to explore.  And, given Florida’s team speed, lateral plays simply aren’t likely to succeed.  So, you run the ball right at them and make them recognize your authority.  As Scarface might say, “say hello two my two tight ends.”  (Incidentally, having the extra tight end helps against Fowler’s speed rush and blitzers, as well.)

Don’t You Forget About Me:  My pick to click (again) is OJ Howard.  If Alabama uses two tight ends, then OJ Howard should be a weapon on play action fakes when Alabama takes advantage of the UF linebackers’ speed and penchant to over-commit.  Also, at times I suspect Kiffin will move OJ out to the slot which was the area that Kentucky exploited against the Gators last week.

Cult of Personality:  The offensive line is going to be under pressure at the edges and from the interior from nose tackle Darious Cummings (#55), who was very active last week.  Ryan Kelly, Arie Koundjio and Leon Brown will have their hands full with him and with deciphering blitzers but, in the end, they will have to be the leaders in establishing Saban’s personality of physicality.

Could You Be Loved:  Amari Cooper leads the world in receptions but if he lines up opposite of Vernan Hargreaves (#1) then this will be a week that he is tested like no other.  Coop has 33 receptions (8 more than every other Tide WR combined) and Hargreaves has given up only two catches on the season so this will be a key matchup.  However, a bigger curiosity to me will be how Alabama approaches this matchup.  Will they continue to force the ball to Coop, even if the throws aren’t there?  Or will other receivers or tight ends (I’m looking at you, OJ Howard) be brought to Bear against the lesser Gator DBs?  Could they be loved?  Could they contribute?  They should because, I assure you, they’ll be open.

Money For Nothing:  Kentucky was downright stealing yardage against Florida’s other corner, Brian Poole (#24).  Much of the time Poole plays a “bail technique” which means he shows bump and run with him up tight against the wide receiver.  However, just before the snap he begins to “bail” by back peddling off the receiver.  Kentucky took advantage of this by hitting five yard curls over and over and over again as Poole’s transition from his backpedal to running forward appears sloooooow.  Look for hitches and slants to be the order of the day against Poole.  If he’s bailing, he’s failing…

Some Like it Hot:  Given Florida’s penchant for blitzing, look for Amari Cooper to be moved around in motion as Alabama identifies the coverage and the blitzers.  This also will allow him to get a free release and be available for any hot routes against the blitz and it should get him away from Hargreaves, as well.

Shout:  Blake Sims completely whiffed in identifying three slot blitzes against WVU, two of which he somehow avoided as he was in their clutches.  Florida has seen this and will use it to the Nth degree so someone needs to give Blake a holla if they see a corner or slot DB inching in for a blitz.  Honestly, this scares the piss out of me because if Florida’s blitzers come in freely, they likely will not miss, and what a calamity that could be.  Sack?  Fumble?  Crumble?  Coker in the game in relief?  Yeesh.

Heaven and Hell:  Crossing routes have been Blake Sims’ own personal little heaven thus far this season but against the Wildcats the Gators seemed to defend crossing routes fairly easily.  However, that should open up the flat routes to guys like Kenyan Drake, leaving him one on one with some poor sucker.  Look for Drake to give this one lone defender hell if it happens.

Start Me Up:  Blake Sims is your starter and I expect him to go wire to wire.  In watching the film, it appeared to me that when Kentucky went four wide with their receivers (balanced, with two on each side), the middle was pretty susceptible to QB draws or any kind of escape from the pocket.  Look for Sims to convert a couple of first downs with improvised or designed runs up the gut.

Tide Bits

In every single Alabama football game, establishing the running game has been of huge importance and perhaps at no time this season will it be more important than in this game.  Kentucky was able to exploit the pass coverage matchups that left their slot receives wide freaking open in the Florida secondary but they had a QB who could deftly deliver the ball.  At this time, I’m not sure we know that Sims can do that.  Therefore, running the ball and keeping the pressure off of Sims will be key.  That’s why I think you’ll see a lot of two tight end sets as we attempt to slowly fashion ourselves some gator shoes, a gator belt and a gator wallet.  It may take a while but I think Alabama’s plan will be to punch them in the mouth repeatedly.  Again, Kentucky went about this in a much, much different way but I can’t really see the staff unleashing Sims’ arm with confidence just yet, can you?  But, when we do pass, it’s going to be fun to see if it’s forced into Cooper or if Alabama spreads the ball around.  And will Coop be shadowed by Hargreaves throughout the game?  Love this chess match but it’s irrelevant if Alabama can run the ball.

Alabama on Defense

Over the past several years, Florida’s offense has been as impotent as the Eunuchs in “History of the World Part I,” but this year it looks like these Gators may have a little Gregory Hines in them.  Florida comes in ranked sixth in the country on offense, riding a bulldozing running game while mixing in a short, quick passing game.  Jeff Driskel finally looks the part of an actual quarterback and Demarcus Robinson (#11) seems to have given them an actual threat at wide receiver.  Against Kentucky, Robinson did his best Amari Cooper impersonation by posting 15 catches for 216 yards.  I think those stats would have been season high’s for the Gators last year so it’s interesting to me that they can now compile those stats in one single game!  But, when the going got tough the Gators turned to their power running game by using big Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor who followed their H backs and some fantastic double team blocks by their O-line.  Man, they brought the downhill running game with authority.  Ok boys – let’s get physical!

Crazy Train:  Similar to Jay Prosch last year with Auburn, just follow the H back crazy train and you’ll find the ball about 95% of the time.  Against Kentucky, Florida dialed up the same play time and time again where the H back came in motion and then cross blocked back across the formation, leading the RB into the interior of the line.  If #88 is in motion, it’s 95% run.  If #87 is in motion, it’s very likely a pass to 87 as they try to leak him out against the grain for a pass.

Under Pressure:  The Wildcats absolutely blitzed the fool out of Florida all game long.  Driskel completed several short throws but any time he took more than a couple of seconds to deliver the ball he got absolutely jacked.  Kentucky went zero coverage (no safety help, straight man to man, bringing the house) several times with great effect.  I think they called this the Honey Badger defense because even though dialing up a multitude of zero coverages was very risky, “that crazy nasty Honey Badger don’t care.”

Sweet Child o’ Mine:  The Gators right tackle gave up several pressures even without resorting to a blitz.  Look for Nick Saban to work over the freshman and make him someone’s little beyotch (Ryan Anderson and Xzavier Dickson should have good games).

Should I Stay or Should I Go:  Florida hasn’t unveiled much of the read option this season but rest assured they have it in their playbook.  Driskel is a very good runner and can threaten the edges a la Nick Marshall.  The defensive ends are really going to have to play a disciplined game as you know Kurt Roper is going to dial up a QB run in short yardage situations for a critical first down.  The DEs will have to read it correctly and know if they need to stay home to defend Driskel or crash down in run support.

Road to Nowhere:  Driskel took a few deep shots down the field on first down and absolutely none of them were anywhere near catchable.  None.  They were throws to nowhere.  It’s no wonder KY dialed up zero pressures as Driskel didn’t show the ability to throw the vertical ball.

Land of Confusion:  Oh that poor Gator offensive line.  I saw probably six different blown assignments that led to Driskel getting clobbered.  The Cats would blitz the slot corner off the left side where the left tackle should slide out (or get the running back to help).  Instead, the tackle actually blocked down, leaving the slot blitzer AND the defensive end a free rush on the QB.  Ooopsy.  Probably not how they want that to work.  With Bama blitzing a lot last week, look for them to create some confusion for the Gator line Saturday.

Time After Time:  Florida is going to attack Alabama physically at the line of scrimmage time and time again.  Therefore, Alabama will rely on their bigger front defensive line to withstand the attacks.  Guys like Ivory, Tomlinson, Reed, Pettway and Robinson are all going to have to hold the point.  Meanwhile, Alabama will need Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland to actually stand up and make plays.  They’ve spent the first three games either out of position or occupying blocks so Saturday is going to be the ultimate test of physicality for these two.  Honestly, I would not be surprised at all to see Reuben Foster play numerous snaps in running situations as he’s the superior run defender, IMO.

Take On Me:  Tony Brown is finally going to play and evidently he’s going to play a lot.  For your average true freshman corner, this would be a scary, scary thing.  However, given Brown’s tremendous make up and athleticism, I think he’ll step forward and make a couple of big plays.  Love.  This.  Kid.  And I hope they attack him because I think he’ll win more times than he loses.

Tide Bits

So, if you can’t tell from the above, I think the battle between Alabama’s defense and Florida’s offense should tilt Bama’s way.  Between the offensive line breakdowns both as a unit (blown assignments) and individually (particularly the right tackle), Alabama should be able to thwart most of the Gator drives.  To me, Alabama’s D struggles against fleet footed wide outs and well-orchestrated passing games but thankfully the Gators are anything but that.  Florida is still a ground and pound attack that uses the short to intermediate passing game to keep defenses honest.  But, they cannot stretch the field and they cannot hang their hat on anything other than a power running game.  The Kentucky game turned to Florida’s favor only because the Cats simply didn’t have the DL depth to withstand all of the Gator body blows.  But, Alabama goes 10 deep on the DL so I think they’ll stand up much, much better.

Special Teams

I’m not putting in much time on the kicking game this week but, to me, it appears to be close to a draw.  I didn’t really see anything that stands out about Florida’s other than the punter had a 48.7 average against Kentucky – those are some bombs.  Oftentimes Saban is able to conjure up a big return in these classic defensive duals so perhaps this week the UF punter will outkick his coverage, leading to a big return.  Kentucky popped a 17 yard return against them so…….

Conclusion

I could be completely wrong here but I am expecting a heavyweight fight that will last for at least three quarters on Saturday.  Florida’s front seven is very good and it is very disciplined so I would expect the Bama running game to have some tough sledding.  However, the Gators secondary can be exposed.  I personally do not think Will Muschamp will alter his entire defensive belief system and match Hargreaves on Cooper throughout the game.  So, because of that, I think we’ll be able to cobble together enough throws and interior runs to punch in some points throughout the game.

Meanwhile, I believe Alabama excels at stopping the run so that should take away the majority of the playbook from Florida.  IF Alabama contains Driskel’s running abilities on the edges then Florida will have a very, very difficult time moving the ball.  I expect it to be like one of your daddy’s SEC games – low scoring and hard hitting.  In other words, just the type of game Nick Saban lives for.

Final Score:  Alabama 27    Florida 16