W2W4 – SEC Championship Game

On Saturday, Alabama has a chance to become the first team since 1998 (Tennessee) to win back to back SEC titles.  For all of Nick Saban’s success at Alabama, it’s kind of amazing that he hasn’t won back to back SEC championships but he does own back to back National Championships rings.

So, the only thing standing in Saban’s way of winning his fourth SEC championship in nine years is a Florida team that can’t seem to score against tall grass.  Should be an easy win, right?  I mean, Alabama’s defense is the best in the country while Florida’s offense is ranked at or near the bottom of nearly every offensive category imaginable.  Alabama leads the conference in sacks.  Florida leads the conference in getting sacked.  Perhaps you are getting the picture?  Here are a few stats to mull over as you prepare for this game.  To sum it up, Alabama’s defense is very, very good.  Florida’s offense is very, very bad.  So, this game will simply come down to whether or not Alabama’s offense can find a way to score….

Category Alabama SEC Rank NCAA Rank Florida SEC Rank NCAA Rank
Scoring offense 34.5 3 34 25.3 10 92
Total offense 421.3 6 51 351.9 12 104
Rushing offense 206.2 3 28 137 13 103
Passing offense 215.2 5 73 214.9 6 74
Scoring defense 14.3 1 3 15.5 2 5
Total defense 264.6 1 2 283.6 2 5
Rushing defense 78.9 1 1 111.3 2 7
Passing defense 185.7 5 16 172.3 4 9
Turnover margin +7 3 27 +10 1 12

 

Alabama on Offense

After toting the rock 46 times against Auburn, most human beings would be a little leg-weary going into their next game.  Thankfully, Derrick Henry is not most human beings.  And while it’s true that Florida’s defense will be the very best defense that Alabama has faced this season, it certainly bodes well for the Tide that Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook rushed for 180 and 183 yards respectively when facing the Gator defense.  But, you should know that Cook banged out 112 of those yards on the last two drives of the game – evidently the Florida defense was tired of being out there all night long.

For as long as Nick Saban has been the head coach at Alabama, when he’s faced a defense that is stout up front like this one is, his offensive game plan typically begins with an air assault.  I’ve long admired the work of Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins – a former Bama staffer – when he was at Mississippi State.  One of the first hires Jim McElwain made was to pry Collins away from the Bulldogs and that move has paid dividends ever since.  At MSU, Collins’ defenses made Alabama work very hard to move the football and, invariably, Bama had to take to the air to do so.

Against FSU (who runs a very, very similar offense), Collins brought 8 men down into the box with regularity.  They pressed the Seminole receivers and provided very few passing lanes for QB Sean McGuire.  The Gators play a very aggressive defense and they can afford to do so because they have two of the best corners in the country so with them in the secondary, blitzing means never having to say you are sorry.  The final score of the FSU game was 27-2 but that’s pretty misleading.  The Florida D held up well until the fourth quarter and it was 13-0 with 10:00 to go in the game.  Here’s what else we saw…

Eight is Enough:  Collins stacked 8 men in the box repeatedly.  Look for Bama to throw on early downs off of play action – they should take deep shots here, too.

Third Down for What:  Collins will be sending Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet and Cupid blitzen on nearly every third down and long.  Bama may have to bring in Brandon Greene at TE in order to max protect on these downs.  The Gators use delayed blitzes extremely well as they identify if the back stays in to protect and, if so, the LB assigned to the back will blitz.  Of course…

Slippin’ Away:   FSU hit the Gators on a pretty nifty play where the back stayed in to block but then slipped out into the secondary for a pass.  Screens could be effective here but the line will have to identify the LB assigned as he will be in man to man and will be in position to blow up the play.  Florida plays man to man underneath on the backs so look for Kiffin to use Stewart out of the backfield on a play or two.

Wide Open Spaces:  Florida misaligned several times against FSU to the point where it seemed like they were coached to do so.  It’s hard to describe but the Gators play a four man front with one of their defensive tackles lined up over the center.  This puts three of the four DL on one side of the ball, leaving the other side of the ball vulnerable.  Dalvin Cook took advantage of this a few times so look for Henry to do so, as well.

Picket Fence:  In the red zone, Florida plays a bit of a picket fence coverage along the goal line.  Look for a slant or crosser in front of the fence to draw up coverage so that the back of the end zone is open.

At a Loss:  Florida’s defensive line absolutely destroyed FSU’s zone blocking as they slanted and got up field, using the OL’s lateral flow against them.  Jonathan Bullard (90) and Cece Jefferson (96) were regulars in the Nole backfield.  Look for Bama to use more isolation blocking and pullers in this game in an attempt to get a hat on a hat and drive Florida off the ball.  Florida’s line has decent size but not great as they have only one DL over 300 lbs.  Their ends are 280 & 265…

Tidebits

  • Given time, Coker should be able to hit some deep crossing patterns against the Gators.
  • Bryan Cox (94) has a heckuva speed rush so Cam Robinson will need to play well Saturday.
  • Linebacker Antonio Morrison (3) has a knee injury so look for Bama to attack him in any one on one situations.
  • Alabama should challenge Florida with deep balls off of double moves. The Tide line will have to max protect to allow enough time.
  • Rolling Coker out could be useful.
  • The linebackers bite HARD on play action so OJ Howard could actually have a role this week.
  • Florida’s defense capitulated in the 4th quarter, allowing Dalvin Cook to run wild. Look for their defense to wilt in the second half if the Gator offense is sputtering as expected.

Alabama on Defense

Florida’s offense is bad.  Really bad.  And, as you might expect, the offensive line is largely to blame (well, that and a terribly inaccurate QB).  The Gators’ line is a patchwork line and it’s anchored by a kid playing center (63 – Tripp Thurmond) who is barely able to complete his snaps back to the quarterback.  When he is able to fire off a good snap, Thurmond is then typically rag-dolled shortly thereafter by some big behemoth on the defensive line.  I imagine A’Shawn Robinson, Jarren Reed and the rest of the interior linemen are foaming at the mouth to take on these guys.

Coach Jim McElwain and his offensive coordinator (and former Bama OC) Doug Nussmeier were often able to scheme their receivers open only to find that their QB could not deliver the football.  Treon Harris is a running back playing QB and his accuracy leaves you to wonder if he’s throwing with the correct hand.  His footwork is lousy, he can’t read the blitz, he holds the ball too long and he can’t throw an accurate pass – other than that, he’s great!  Here’s what else we saw when we watched the film….

Ready, Throw, Aim:  Treon Harris is strugglin’ folks.  In our one game review we saw him miss seven different open receivers.  SEVEN.  And, he had five other passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.  Harris apparently is a member of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight so look for Bama to rush four and play coverage or rush three and have a spy.

Right Round:  When Harris is flushed from the pocket, he immediately scrambles to his right.  If Alabama blitzes, look for them to attack from Harris’ right side.  But, Bama’s front four should own the line of scrimmage so blitzing really shouldn’t be called upon too often.

O-No-Line:  As we mentioned, the center is really bad.  His snaps are bad, he struggles at the point of contact and he can’t pick up interior blitzes.  Our notes show the right guard and right tackle struggled as well so it’s no wonder this offense struggles.  All the plays and playmakers in the world aren’t worth a nickel if the OL can’t get their jobs done.

Tight-end Up:  Jake McGee (83) was Harris’ go to receiver, catching three passes in the flats.  Look for quick passes to the backs and tight ends as McElwain tries to isolate the Achilles heel of the Alabama pass defense (LBs).

Not Pretty Fly:  90% of Florida’s runs were between the tackles with Taylor and Harris.  They very rarely threatened the perimeter even though they showed a fly sweep on nearly every run.

Tidebits

  • Look for several funky formations and multiple tight ends to be employed as Coach McElwain tries to scheme himself a few first downs and big plays.
  • Florida State stuffed the Gators running attack using only six defenders. This is good news for Bama fans.
  • QB runs will be the order of the day and will be the one facet of the Florida offense that presents any issues.
  • Antonio Calloway (81) and Demarcus Robinson (11) will threaten the Bama DBs on deep balls. Honestly, this will be the best opportunity for Florida to score.  Long drives simply will not work.
  • If Alabama does blitz, look for Florida’s backs to completely blow their assignments. They aren’t into blocking at all.
  • We saw the center and right tackle get tossed away like an old dirty sock several times – once by a Seminole safety!

Alabama on Special Teams

Adam Griffith and JK Scott have clearly (and quite literally) hit their stride over the second half of the season.  Conversely, Florida’s kicker is 5 of 13 on the season and the staff would rather listen to a Verne and Gary broadcast than send him out onto the field.  He’s really bad.

Florida is sixth in the conference in kick returns and sixth in punt returns so kick coverage will be critical this week.  Florida averages 44.16 yards per punt while Alabama is one spot behind them (5th) with an average of 43.35 so both punters should fare well in the Georgia Dome.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

There should absolutely be no way for Florida to win this game unless Alabama does the unthinkable and commits 5 turnovers again and I don’t think any of us believe that will happen.  This game should be a street fight for three-quarters simply because Florida’s defense and defensive coordinator are outstanding.  But, in the end Alabama’s depth and talent should win out and move on to Dallas for the final four of the College Football Playoffs.

Final Score:  Alabama 23               Florida 6

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2015 Iron Bow Review

How did Alabama and Adam Griffith answer “The Kick Six?”  Well naturally with a kick seven!  Griffith kicked two extra points and five field goals, one of which was a 50 yard bomb that flew over the head of a Tiger return man, landing 10 rows deep in the end zone.  Seven attempts, seven solid kicks in the behinds of the Auburn Tigers.  Auburn even missed a field goal of their own leaving Gus Malzahn lamenting over the fact that they could have hung 16 on Alabama…

And how did Alabama counteract the presence of two Heisman trophy winners on the Auburn sidelines?  By introducing Bo Jackson and Cam Newton to their new roomie in the Heisman House – Mr Derrick Henry.  Bo got to witness history as Henry broke more records than the invention of CDs – here are just a few:

  • Most rushing yards in a single season in Alabama history – 1,797
  • Most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Alabama history – 22
  • Most carries in a single season in Alabama history – 46
  • Most rushing yards in an Iron Bowl – 271 (sorry, not sorry, Bo)
  • Most 200 yard games in a season in SEC history – 4

There was very little that Straightjacket Will’s defense could do to stop the King Henry train and now he owns the Iron Crown, the state , the entire SEC and, very soon, a Heisman trophy.  Ahh, it’s good to be the king…

As for Bama fans, it’s good to be us, as well!  Bama has now won two straight against the Tigers…and four of the last five…and six of the last eight.  When Auburn wins it requires miracles and heroics that their fans post on social media, hang banners and create catchy slogans.  When Alabama wins, they simply move on to the SEC championship game.  There are no murals, no slogans, no catch phrases and no miracles.  Such is the life of an Alabama fan as beating Auburn is simply expected.

And now we’re on to Florida…after the Iron Bowl review, of course…

Alabama on Offense

Welp, this shouldn’t be a difficult section to right.  Derrick Henry to the left.  Derrick Henry to the right.  Derrick Henry up the middle.  Of the 76 plays that Alabama ran, Henry carried the ball 46 times – a stunning 60.5%.  Of the 465 yards Bama gained, Henry was responsible for 271 – that’s 58% of the offense.  And, late in the game, all of God’s children knew that Henry was getting the football (14 straight times, in fact) and yet Straightjacket Will’s defense was powerless to stop him.  In essence, that was your ballgame and your “Alabama on Offense” report.  However, there were a couple of key plays that we wanted to bring your attention to…

Jake the Snake:  Coker make three exceptional plays that were directly responsible for 10 points so we feel strongly that his exploits should be mentioned.  The first play was a 3rd & 8 play where Coker somehow eluded the rush, escaping the grasp of an Auburn lineman in the process, and scrambled forward for seven tough yards.  The fact that he didn’t lose seven was amazing enough but to think he actually gained seven was unthinkable at the time.  This set up a 4th & 1 that Alabama was somehow forced to convert twice (which they did).  Two plays later, Coker eluded Carl “if only he could return Auburn could have an average defense” Lawson AND five-star “stud” Byron Cowart and fired the game winning touchdown pass to Ardarius Stewart.  Two amazing plays that exhibited the style and the leadership that put Bama on the cusp of another SEC championship.

Jake the Late Hit Snake:  Most folks forget that it was Coker’s ability to evade the rush once again that led him to the sidelines for an eventual late hit against the Auburn defense.  Coker’s escapability was on display once again as he avoided a sack and ran out-of-bounds, negating a loss.  There, he was pushed out-of-bounds (in the field of play) by one Tiger and then a second Tiger hit him three yards out-of-bounds (i.e. not in the field of play).  The flag for the late hit was a no brainer and while the medics and trainers attended to the poor ref who destroyed his backside when he slipped and fell, this gave time for Muschamp to lose his ever-lovin mind.  Thirty yards later, Bama was in position to kick another field goal and make it a two score game – all thanks to Coker’s ability to avoid pressure (and Muschamp’s inability to handle his internal pressure).

Straightjacket Will:  Will Muschamp isn’t the head coach of the Auburn Tigers.  That designation belongs to Gus Malzahn.  Gus has some latitude with the refs but any other assistant coaches simply do not.  Frankly, it’s amazing that Muschamp didn’t get a second flag for unsportsmanlike behavior (i.e. going Red Ross or David Banner/Hulk on the refs).  Had Muschamp received a second flag, he would have been ejected and, as a referee texted me, by rule Gus Malzahn would have been ejected, as well.  It was clear that Gus wasn’t happy with Will and, honestly, I do not expect them to coexist in the future.

Ridley’s Believe It or Not:  Calvin Ridley is a straight up playmaker.  On one WR screen, he left some AU undergarments on the field as he juked an Auburn defender right out of his shorts.  Two plays later, Ridley came down with a tremendous diving catch at the AU 4 yard line.  While Gary Danielson screamed for a review, the replays showed that Ridley had made yet another incredible play…as a true freshman.  Wow.

Nowhere to Run To:  Facing 2nd & goal from the Auburn one yard line, Auburn stuffed Henry for his only loss of the game.  From the left side of the Bama line, Ross Pierschbacher was absolutely blown off the line of scrimmage and tight end Brandon Greene was destroyed off the right side.  The result was a pinching action that left Henry with nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide.

Final Nail:  I’ve heard that some folks were upset about Bama “running up the score” with the last touchdown.  There was still over a minute left and Alabama was facing  4th & 1 – they needed to convert one final first down for the game to actually be over.  Bama ran a dive play off the right tackle and blocks by Stewart, Robinson, Jackson and Hentges (!) opened up a hole that easily Henry exploited, going untouched into the end zone.  Bama had to run a play and it was just a simple dive play so…..

Tidebits

  • Bama used three flip passes and five WR screens to work the flanks of the AU defense.
  • Henry slipped and fell on four cuts. The ref, though, had the worst slip & fall experience.
  • The offensive line blocked the interior about as well as it can be done on several occasions. Ryan Kelly and Alphonse Taylor were particularly effective on the interior.
  • I don’t understand how we are 12 games into the season and there is no other back on Alabama’s roster that they trust to carry the football. Damien Harris had one single solitary carry.
  • I don’t recall OJ Howard’s name being called. For anything.
  • The pistol formation was particularly effective in springing Henry as Auburn had to honor and respect the flip passes/fly sweeps from the receivers.
  • Coker threw four or five passes that were very poorly thrown. Not his most accurate day throwing the football.
  • I noticed Cam Robinson being used as a pulling guard. Pretty interesting and very devastating.

Alabama on Defense

Gus Malzahn darn near hung 16 on the Tide defense so I’m sure he’s not sleeping well this week.  But, in all seriousness, the Gus Bus was humming along early in the game while Bama committed just six men to the box.  Jovon Robinson (a beast in his own right) came out of the gate with a vengeance, ticking off 8 or 9 yards per carry.  As Auburn approached the red zone, Malzahn dug into his Harry Potter bag of tricks and that’s when things went south as Jeremy Johnson failed to complete a two yard lateral by throwing it out-of-bounds.  Oops.

On each of Auburn’s first two scoring drives they were able to isolate their running backs on Reuben Foster and the resulting blown coverages allowed the Tigers to pass for 28 yards to Peyton Barber and 20 yards to Robinson.  These two plays along with the 77 yard Jason Smith “Prayer at the Hare: Part 2” accounted for 125 of the 170 passing yards for the Tigers (73.5%).  For the rest of the game, Johnson was 7 of 20 for 45 yards.

The early body blows and coverage breakdowns eventually subsided and the Bama defense began committing a 7th man to the box with regularity, limiting the space in which Auburn’s offense had to operate – just as expected.  Here are a few other things we saw when we reviewed the tape…

Fill and Replace:  Alabama completely contained the Auburn fly sweeps and they did so with excellent communication between the corners and the safeties.  As the fly sweep presented itself to the boundary, Alabama’s corners would release the WR to the safety so they could fill the edge and contain the play.  The safety recognized this and immediately jumped the wide receiver, thereby taking away any tricky running-option-throw-it-down-the-field-while-our-offensive-line-is-10-yards-down-the-field plays.  Bama executed this flawlessly.

Reed-ing the Defense:  When Auburn had success running between the tackles, it was typically a result of double-teaming Jarren Reed.  Reed was blown out at the point of attack several times, opening running lanes for the interior runs.

Blitz Scheme:  Alabama employed a couple of awesome blitz packages that had tremendous effect.  Bama linebackers Ragland and Foster showed blitz at the right of the Auburn line so Johnson looked to the sidelines and adjusted the protection accordingly.  But, at the snap, Foster and Ragland fell off into coverage as the blitz came from Auburn’s left side in the form of Mincah Fitzpatrick and he was untouched on his way to the QB.  Later, in a similar concept, Bama blitzed Geno Matias-Smith and Maurice Smith and found a way to match them up on Auburn’s RB and H-back.  Both backs picked up Matias-Smith and Maurice came thru for the eventual sack.

Prayer at the Hare:  Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson were in perfect position on the 77 yard touchdown pass.  Unfortunately, Geno dove for what he thought was an overthrown football instead of simply whacking the receiver into next week.  As Geno dove, he took out Eddie Jackson and the rest was history.

Tidebits

  • I love the way Eddie Jackson read the Auburn guard who was releasing at him as he led the eventual reverse. The action of the guard tipped Jackson off that the reverse was coming and he made the tackle for a five yard loss.
  • Cyrus Jones defended Ricardo Louis about as perfectly as you can on a bomb down the sidelines. He turned late, found the ball and broke up the pass at the goal line.
  • After the 77 yard touchdown pass, Auburn called five straight pass plays.
  • With 2:22 left in the game and Auburn down 9, the Tigers ran a play action pass off of a fake reverse. As if Alabama would bite on a reverse…
  • Reuben Foster was all over the field on the very last drive, breaking up a pass down the field and destroying a hook and ladder play on the game’s final snap.

Alabama on Special Teams

What more can be said about Adam Griffith’s performance in this game?  The much maligned kicker seemed to put things together around the third game of the season and hasn’t looked back ever since.  The five field goals were all very well struck but the 50 yarder was an absolute bomb.  You could almost feel two years of “Kick Six” frustration getting pounded into the football as it flew well into the stands.  Griffith even nailed seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, negating a strong Auburn return game.  Nick Saban has confidently stood by this young man for the past two years so it was wonderful to see such a perfect performance from him Saturday.

It’s difficult to say there were any failures in the Bama kicking game at all, especially since JK Scott had three punts for a 48.5 yard average.  However, two of the three punts went into the end zone for a net of 28.5 yards per punt.  Too bad Bama couldn’t down one of these inside the 20.  On the other punt, Auburn schemed the Tide really well by having two returners back for the punt.  One of the returners waved for the fair catch, enticing both Bama gunners to that side of the field.  However, the punt went in the opposite direction and Marcus Davis was able to get 21 yards on the return (and Bama was lucky it wasn’t worse).

Final Thoughts

There’s so much to potentially cover here regarding the Iron Bowl that I’m not sure where to start.  First and foremost, we have to congratulate the efforts of Derrick Henry and Adam Griffith.  Each of them put forth a historic performance that will be remembered for years to come.  Second, Jake Coker continues to deliver in spite of what the fans, media and opponents believe he can do.  His Houdini-esque escape and the resulting TD pass turned a tight game into a game that Bama was certain to win, and it was one helluva play to boot.

Defensively, Alabama did what it had to do to win the game.  They shut down the fly sweeps and they limited the AU quick strike offense to one bobbling, juggling play.  Gus dug into his bag of tricks but in 2015, his tricks were for kids.

In this space, we also have to address the childish behavior of Will Muschamp.  If anyone believes that the penalty enforced against his antics cost Auburn the game then you simply have Will Muschamp to blame.  Head coaches have the latitude to argue a call (to a point) but assistant coaches have no such latitude.  As long as Will has been in this game and been on the sidelines, you’d think that he would have a pretty good understanding of how far he and his temper can push things.  But, he does not.  He doesn’t know his place as an assistant and he doesn’t have an ability to reign in his emotions.  I’m glad he is not on the Bama sidelines.  And, yes, Saban has certainly had his own vitriolic meltdowns but there are significant differences in his approach.  1) He’s a head coach so he can argue a call.  2) He doesn’t personally call the ref names but rather argues a “BS” call.  Cursing the penalty is different than cursing the man who threw the flag.  3) I don’t recall Saban netting himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a one score game that caused the game to become a two score game.  That’s just stupid.  The only thing more stupid would be to defend his actions like the Auburn broadcast team did.  That was horrendous.  Suddenly, I’m extremely thankful for the professionalism of Eli Gold, Phil Savage and Chris Stewart.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the field.  You should know that it’s a time-honored tradition of setting up the home field to best suit the home team.  Kinda like the Geico commercials, “it’s what you do.”  Notre Dame used to grow the grass very, very long before the Miami & USC games in an attempt to slow the Canes & Trojans down.  Both teams had to play on the same surface and since Alabama nearly doubled the yardage that Auburn gained, I’d say it had a minimal effect.

Now Bama is onto Atlanta once again and will face a Florida team that appears to be limping towards the finish line.  If Alabama handles business as they should, they will improbably be the only repeating team to make the College Football Playoffs.  Whodathunkit?

 

Prelude to the SEC Championship: Tide and Gators in 2015

The Notorious PAB is back this week with a statistical breakdown of Alabama and Florida over the course of 2015.  There’s some wonderfully detailed information in here but make sure you scroll down to the “Events and Trends” section as it tells a very interesting tale.  We sincerely appreciate his efforts this year as it’s been a great addition to the blog – enjoy!

 

Prelude to the SEC Championship:  Tide and Gators in 2015

Introduction

Our goal is to set the stage – well, part of it, anyway – for the 2015 SEC Championship Game.  As usual, we’ll look at game and season statistics, leaving other aspects to more-qualified analysts.  While the section about overall SEC statistics is revealing, the most valuable comparisons are in the sections on how Bama and the Gators performed against common opponents from the SEC East and West.

These figures can be found on the Interweb or easily calculated.  But our affection for you, Bama Lighthouse reader, is such that we want to provide you “one-stop shopping” and throw in a little moderately relevant commentary as well.

CFP Rankings Update

The December 1 rankings for the College Football Playoffs have just been released:

  • Bama 11-1                 #2                    Same as previous week
  • Florida 10-2             #18                  Down 6 spots from previous week

Florida State moved up from 13 to 9;  Auburn is unranked.

The Tide and Gators in SEC Championship Games

In 1991, the SEC expanded to 12 programs by adding the South Carolina Gamecocks to the East Division and the Arkansas Razorbacks to the West Division.  After expansion, the SEC became the first NCAA Division I conference to hold a championship football game after the regular season.   All major conferences, except the Big 12 – to its occasional detriment, followed.

On December 5, the Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators will meet in the Georgia Dome to determine the 2015 champion.  Given how often these two programs have competed in this game, the theme song might well be “Hello, Old Friend,” although “friend” is probably a tad charitable.

Head-to-head, the record through 2014 is: Gators 4 wins and Bama 3 wins.

1992                Bama 28                      Gators 21

1993                Gators 28                    Bama 13

1994                Gators 24                    Bama 23

1995                Gators 34                    Bama 3

1999                Bama 34                      Gators 7

2008                Gators 31                    Bama 20

2009                Bama 32                      Gators 13

In addition, Gators defeated Auburn, 28-6, in 2000, and bested Arkansas, 38-28, in 2006.  Bama won over Georgia, 32-28, in 2012 – perhaps the best big-time college football game of that season – and 42-13 over Mizzou in 2014.   (No mean accomplishment by the Tigers, who joined the SEC on July 1, 2012.)

Counting the upcoming 2015 title game, there have been 48 slots for teams.  Bama and the Gators together have made 20 appearances and secured 11 wins.

(“Hello, Old Friend” was the first single from Eric Clapton’s No Reason to Cry album, released by RSO in the autumn of 1976. If you’re not a Slowhand fan, an alternative is “Old Friends” by Simon and Garfunkel.)

Florida Gators – 2015 Schedule and Results

Non-conference opponents are in italics.  SEC Divisions are indicated.

9/5       New Mexico State       Home                          31-6     WIN                 1-0 overall / 0-0 SEC

9/12     East Carolina               Home                          61-13   WIN                 2-0 overall / 0-0 SEC

9/18     Kentucky (East)           Away                           14-9     WIN                 3-0 overall / 1-0 SEC

9/26     Tennessee (East)         Home                          28-27   WIN                 4-0 overall / 2-0 SEC

10/3     Ole Miss (West)          Home                          38-10   WIN                 5-0 overall / 3-0 SEC

10/10   Missouri (East)            Away                           21-3     WIN                 6-0 overall / 4-0 SEC

10/17   LSU (West)                  Away                           28-35   LOSS                6-1 overall / 4-1 SEC

10/31   Georgia (East)             Jacksonville, FL            27-3     WIN                 7-1 overall / 5-1 SEC

11/7     Vanderbilt (East)         Home                          9-7       WIN                 8-1 overall / 6-1 SEC

11/14   South Carolina (East)  Away                           24-14   WIN                 9-1 overall / 7-1 SEC

11/21   Florida Atlantic           Home                          20-14   WIN (OT)         10-1 overall / 8-1 SEC

11/28   Florida State                Home                          2-27     LOSS                10-2 overall / 8-1 SEC

Scoring and Scoring Defense

All games  :  10-2

Total points scored:  303                                            Average:  25.3 ppg

Total points allowed:  168                                          Average:  14.0 ppg

Margin:  +135 points                                                  Average:  +11.3 ppg

Most points scored:  61 vs. East Carolina (W)            Fewest points scored:  2 vs. Florida State (L)

Most points allowed:  35 vs. LSU (L)                           Fewest points allowed:  3 vs. Mizzou (W) & Georgia (W)

Non-conference  :  4-0

Total points scored:  114                                            Average:  28.5ppg

Total points allowed:  63                                            Average:  10.5 ppg

Margin:  +54 points                                                    Average:  +13.5 ppg

Most points scored:  61 vs. East Carolina (W)            Fewest points scored:  2 vs. Florida State (L)

Most points allowed:  27 vs. FSU (L)                           Fewest points allowed:  6 vs. New Mexico State (W)

SEC East :  5-0

Total points scored:  123                                            Average:  20.5 ppg

Total points allowed:  63                                            Average:  10.5 ppg

Margin:  +60                                                               Average:  +10.0 ppg

Most points scored:  28 vs. Tennessee (W)                Fewest points scored:  9 vs. Vanderbilt (W)

Most points allowed:  27 vs. Tennessee (W)              Fewest points allowed:  3 vs. Mizzou (W) & Georgia (W)

SEC West :  1-1

Total points scored:  66                                              Average:  33.0 ppg

Total points allowed:  45                                            Average:  22.5 ppg

Margin:  +21 points                                                    Average:  +10.5 ppg

Most points scored:  38 vs. Ole Miss(W)                    Fewest points scored:  28 vs. LSU (L)

Most points allowed:  35 vs. LSU (L)                           Fewest points allowed:  10 vs. Ole Miss (W)

Bama and Gator –  SEC Stats                       

Total offense                                       Bama                                       Gators

Total yards                                          5056                                        4223

Yards/game                                        421                                            352

Passing yards                                      2582                                        2579

Passing yards/game                         215.2                                        214.9

Rushing yards                                    2474                                       1664

Rushing yards/game                       206.2                                        137.0

Points                                                  414                                            303

Points/game                                        34.5                                         25.3

Touchdowns                                        43                                            37

In terms of yards, Bama’s offense has been remarkably balanced: 51% from the pass and 49% from rushing.  In contrast, the Gators are more “pass heavy:” 61% from their aerial attack and 39% on the ground.  Make no mistake: in the context of contemporary offenses, a 61/39 split is quite reasonable.  But with Bama, “the song remains the same” (documentary about Led Zeppelin):  run the ball; play tough, disciplined defense; and limit mistakes.

Passing yards per game are incredibly close with Bama at 215.2 ypg against 214.9 ypg by the Gators.  The rushing efforts, on the other hand, strongly favor the Tide: 206.2 ypg vs. 137.0 ypg.  Here we see the impact of Derrick Henry, who leads the SEC with 1797 rushing yards (6.1 yards/carry and 22 TDs).  Any who doubt that can confer with the Auburn defense.

Passing                                                Bama                                       Gators

Attempts                                             354                                          356

Completions                                        242                                          210

Completion rate                                  66.5%                                      59.0%

Yards                                                   2582                                        2579

Yards/attempt                                     7.1                                           7.2

Yards/game                                        215.2                                       214.9

TDs                                                      16                                            18

INTs                                                     10                                            7

Sacks                                                   17                                            37

Bama has a higher completion rate (66.5% vs. 59.0%) and more completions (242 vs. 210).  The Gators have more TDs (18 vs. 16) and fewer INTs (7 vs. 10).  We mentioned above that yards/game are essentially the same.  But look at the sacks… the Gators gave up 20 more sacks than Bama.  That does not bode well for Florida, which will be led by a backup QB – albeit one who now has significant game experience – against what is very probably the best front seven in big-time college football.

Rushing                                               Bama                                       Gators

Attempts                                             503                                          462

Yards                                                   2474                                        1644

Yards/attempt                                     4.9                                           3.6

TD                                                           27                                            19

Yards/game                                        206.2                                       137.0

Bama made 8.9% more rushing attempts than the Gators (503 vs. 462).  That 8.9% translated into 33.5% more yards (2464 vs. 1644) because the Tide was more productive on a per attempt basis – 4.9 vs. 1.3 – which works out to 36.1% better.  It’s good to be effective; it’s good to be efficient.  But when a team is both and strongly committed to an area of the game, accomplishments like those reached by the Bama running game are possible.

Looking at touchdowns, Bama’s very balanced yardage production generated 27 by rushing (63%) and 16 by passing (37%).  The Gators, despite a 61/39 yardage split in favor of passing, scored 19 TDs (51%) on the ground and 18 (49%) through the air.

First downs                                          Bama                                       Gators

Total                                                    265                                          213

Rushing                                               131                                          88

Passing                                                115                                          116

Penalty                                                  19                                            9

Third downs                                 60/168 (35.7%)                       68/182 (37%)

Fourth downs                                10/22 (45.5%)                         14/24 (58%)

Here again, we see evidence of Bama’s offensive balance: 49% of first downs by rushing and 43% generated by the passing game.

Field goals, PATs                                 Bama                                       Gators

Field goals                                           19/27 (70.4%)                         7/16 (43.8%)

PATs                                                    49/49 (100%)                          34/39 (87.2%)

If the SEC title game comes down to a late-game field goal, the numbers say that the Tide has a definite edge:  more attempts (in-game experience counts) and a significantly higher success rate.  A lot of other numbers, however, strongly suggest that such a scenario will not happen.

Defense                                               Bama                                       Gators

Sacks                                                   41.0                                         38.0

Sack yardage                                      259                                          277

Passes defended                                60                                            48

INTs                                                     15                                            14

Yards off INTs                                  442                                          247

TD off INTs                                          4                                              2

Fumbles recovered                             8                                              10

Bama enjoys only a slight edge in sacks (41 to 38) and the Gators have accumulated more sack yardage.   That was a bit of a surprise, given all the praise – on balance, very well deserved – that the Tide’s front seven has garnered.  INTs are about the same.  Bama has 33% more passes defended (60 vs. 48), and that makes sense: as opponents find their run games shutdown, more passes are attempted, in desperation and/or late in games.  The one statistic that really stands out is yards gained after interceptions.  Bama has 79% more such yards than Florida (442 vs. 247) and indicates that Bama INTs, in general, produce much larger shifts in field position.

Games vs. Top Non-Conference Opponents

Our original intent was to look at how the Tide and Gators fared against their respective opponents from the Power 5 Conferences: Wisconsin from the Big 10 and Florida State from the ACC.  But the circumstances of these games are so dissimilar that we’ve decided that a detailed comparison would not add much value.  This decision is based the following:

  • Bama’s game against the Badgers was a spotlight kickoff game – the Advocare Classic – and was played on a neutral field. Bama was ranked 3 and Wisconsin 20 in the AP preseason poll.  Since then, Wisconsin has been placed no higher than 25 in the CFP rankings and was not ranked in Week 13.

 

  • The Gators contest with Florida State came at the end of the regular season and is one of the top in-state rivalry games in big-time college football. It was a home game for the Gators.  The Seminoles climbed in the CFP rankings as the game drew nearer:  16 in Weeks 10 and 11, 14 in Week 12 and 13 in Week 13.

We will point out one key aspect of each game.   In the contest against Wisconsin, the Tide gave notice that its rushing defense was already in mid-season form.  The Badgers were held to 40 net yards rushing (64 gained, 24 lost), in 21 attempts for a 1.9 net yards/rush average.  Bama allowed two rushing first downs and zero rushing TDs.  The Badgers, a program known for massive O-linemen and productive runners, was rendered one-dimensional.

Facing the Seminoles, the Gators made it into the red zone three times and came away with no points. Despite running 79 plays (21 more than the Seminoles), Florida generated only 262 yards of total offense (3.3 yards/play).  RB Kevin Taylor did his part and more, gaining 136 yards on 24 carries for a stellar average of 5.7 yards/carry.  The Gators longest play from scrimmage gained 22 yards.

Games vs. Common SEC East Opponents

Bama vs. Georgia       10/3     Away                           38-10 WIN       4-1 overall / 1-1 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Bama 47 189 4 2 11 16 69% 190 0 1
Georgia 38 193 5.1 1 11 31 35% 106 3 0
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Bama 379 63 6 38 1/12 0/2 2 1 1
Georgia 299 69 4.3 10 3/17 0/0 1 0 1

 

Gators vs. Georgia      10/31   Jacksonsville, FL          27-3 WIN         7-1 / 5-1 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Gators 48 258 5.4 2 8 19 42% 155 0 1
Georgia 22 69 3.1 0 15 34 44% 154 4 0

 

Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Gators 413 67 6.2 27 7/16 0/1 4 2 0
Georgia 223 56 4 3 2/12 0/2 2 0 1

 

= = = =

Bama vs. Tennessee   10/24   Home                          19-14 WIN       7-1 overall / 4-1 SEC  

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Bama 42 117 2.8 2 21 27 78% 247 1 0
Tennessee 39 132 3.4 1 13 22 59% 171 0 1
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Bama 364 69 5.3 19 5/12 0/0 4 2 2
Tennessee 303 61 5 14 7/13 0/0 3 2 0

 

Gators vs. Tennessee  9/26     Home                          28-27 WIN       4-0 overall / 2-0 SEC  

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Gators 28 109 3.9 2 23 43 53% 283 1 2
Tennessee 51 254 5 2 12 19 63% 165 0 1
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Gators 392 71 5.5 28 3/15 5/5 3 3 0
Tennessee 419 70 6.0 27 7/16 1/1 4 2 2

= = = =

Games vs. Common SEC West Opponents

Bama vs. Ole Miss      9/9       Home                          37-43 LOSS      2-1 overall / 0-1 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Bama 42 215 5.1 2 32 59 54% 288 3 3
Ole Miss 32 92 3.9 2 18 33 55% 341 0 3
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Bama 503 101 5 37 11/20 1/4 6/6 5 1
Ole Miss 433 65 6.7 43 4/14 1/2 4/4 2 2

 

Gators vs. Ole Miss     10/3     Home                          38-10 WIN       5-0 overall / 3-0 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Gators 34 84 2.5 1 24 29 83% 271 0 4
Ole Miss 33 69 2.1 0 26 40 65% 259 1 1
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Gators 355 63 5.6 38 8/16 0/0 5 3 2
Ole Miss 328 73 4.5 10 5/14 1/2 3 1 1

 

= = = =

Bama vs. LSU              11/7     Home                          30-16 WIN       8-1 overall / 6-1 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Bama 55 250 4.5 3 18 24 75% 184 0 0
LSU 26 54 2.1 1 6 19 32% 128 1 1
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Bama 434 79 5.5 30 7/15 1/2 6 3 2
LSU 182 45 4 16 3/11 0/0 1 1 0

 

Gators vs. LSU             10/17   Away                           28-35 LOSS      6-1 overall / 4-1 SEC

Rush Pass Pass Comp
Att Yards Avg TDs Comp Att Rate Yards Ints TDs
Gators 31 55 1.8 1 17 32 53% 271 0 2
LSU 41 221 5.4 3 13 19 68% 202 0 2
Red Red Red
Tot 3rd 4th Zone Zone Zone
Yards Plays Avg Points Down Down Trips TD FG
Gators 326 63 5.2 28 6/16 2/4 3 3 0
LSU 423 60 7.1 35 7/14 1/1 4 4 0

 

= = = =

In Closing –  Events and Trends

November was not kind to the Florida Gators.  Off the field, the one-year suspension levied against QB Will Grier was upheld by the NCAA.  On the field, the Gators were clearly trending down.  Looking at November games…

Record:  Bama:  4-0                Gators:  3-1

Bama defeated two CFP-ranked SEC West teams, LSU (#2) and Mississippi State (#17).  Bama won its so-called tune-up game against Charlestown Southern by 50 points (56-6).  In the Iron Bowl, the Tide found itself in a close game at Auburn – 9-6 at halftime – then rode workhorse RB Derrick Henry’s 271 yards to a 29-13 victory.  If young Mr. Henry’s performance did not secure a second Heisman Trophy to be put on display at The Capstone, then – as Bill Murray declared in Stripes –“something is seriously wrong…”

(Our pre-Iron Bowl projection was that Auburn would likely be held to about 14 points, so we feel good about that.  On the other hand, we were off by 10 points or so with respect to offense, thinking that Bama could get into the high 30s.  Day job has been retained and no one is headed to Vegas.)

The Gators faced one opponent ranked by the CFP committee – Florida State at 14.  In the tune-up game, Florida Atlantic took Florida into OT before the Gators prevailed 20-14.  Finally, the Gators put in a poor showing in their rivalry contest against the Seminoles, falling by the rather ignominious score of 27-2.  That’s 2 as in “a safety, no points scored by the offense.”

  • Points scored – Bama: 146;   Avg  5 ppg              Gators:  55;  Avg  13.8 ppg
  • Points allowed – Bama: 41;  Avg  3 ppg               Gators:  62;  Avg  15.5 ppg
  • Margin – Bama:  +105 :  Avg  +26.2 ppg             Gators:  -7;  Avg -1.7 ppg

In the final month of the season, the Tide improved average scoring by about a field goal (36.5 ppg vs. 33.0 ppg) and tightened average points allowed by just over a TD (10.3 ppg vs. 16.6 ppg).  A team that was already playing well became more productive on both sides of the ball.  Such improvement late in the season against quality opponents is one hallmark of an elite team.

In contrast, the Gators scoring dropped off by just over 17 points: 13.8 ppg vs. 31.0 ppg.  (There’s a formal football term for such a situation: YIKES!)  Florida’s defense held fast, giving up, on average, less than one more field goal per contest: 15.5 ppg vs. 13.3 ppg.  We note that the Gators were 6-0/4-0 SEC and had just defeated Mizzou, 21-3, when Grier was suspended by the NCAA.  More evidence – if any were needed – that the more competitive the football is, the more QB play matters.

Looking at recent key events (in-state rivalry games) in context (trends during November), Bama appears much stronger than the Gators going into the SEC championship.  A win in Atlanta should put the Tide securely in the “final four” CFP teams, provide the opportunity to compete for National Championship Number 16 and be the motivation for a prelude-to-the-CFP entry.