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….
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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…
- 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.
- 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