TUSCALOOSA, AL — This is it. The day is almost here. The Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0, 0-0 SEC) at 2:30 local time on CBS this Saturday.
With the game almost upon us, it’s time to take a look at the matchups that will make or break, win or lose the game for both teams.
Vernon Hargreaves vs. Amari Cooper
Nick de la Torre: This is the main event, in my opinion. Two of the best players in the SEC will square off head-to-head. Florida hasn’t said that they will stick Hargreaves on Cooper exclusively but with a choice between a bevy of freshmen cornerbacks and an All-American, what would you do?
Some teams may try to keep the ball away from whoever Hargreaves is covering but Cooper has been targeted almost 50 times through three games. Lane Kiffin hasn’t even dialed up a pass to Mackey Award watch-list tight end O.J. Howard. Alabama is going to throw the ball at Cooper and it will be the biggest test of the Hargreaves’ young career.
Andrew Spivey: This match-up has been the talk of college football this week and quiet frankly may be the best match-up of the year. Cooper who has 33 catches already this year is the key to Alabama’s passing attack and Hargreaves is going to be the guy who has to cover him all night long. Hargreaves who is considered one of the top defensive backs in the country has the mental makeup to match-up with the talented receiver. Let’s face it nobody is going to completely shut down Cooper but Hargreaves should be able to keep Cooper in tact and limit his deep playmaking ability. With this match-up intact the Gators will basically be playing a 10-on-10 game.
Demarcus Robinson vs. Tony Brown
Nick de la Torre: Tony Brown was one of the most physically gifted and impressive athletes that I had a chance to see last year at The Opening and during the Under Armour All-American game. Brown is still learning how to play cornerback after playing all over the secondary in high school. He’s facing a tall task this week with Demarcus Robinson coming off of a school-record performance. These are two of the most athletic players on either team and a very unique matchup
Andrew Spivey: Robinson is Florida’s version of Amari Cooper and with 15 catches last week he has earned the respect of being the Gators number one target. This week he will get the chance to up against a freshman in Tony Brown who will be filling in for Eddie Jackson of Alabama who is injured. Brown is a very talented freshman but much like Jalen Tabor he’s trying to learn how to play the cornerback position from a mental aspect. While I don’t think Robinson will dominate the physical beast Brown I do think that Robinson can take advantage of the inexperienced Brown.
Andre Debose vs. Christion Jones
Nick de la Torre: Andre Debose is one kickoff return away from an all-time SEC record and Alabama has been one of the worst kick coverage teams in the league early on this season. Debose could provide a spark — similar to his 65-yard touchdown catch the last time Florida and Alabama squared off. On the Tide’s side, Jones is an equally dangerous playmaker and return specialist. Jones is leading the SEC with a 26.22 yards-per-return average and has two career return touchdowns as well. Both of these players are capable of turning a kickoff into six points and changing the momentum of the game.
Andrew Spivey: This is a match-up that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention but is one that could change the game for either team not on offense but on special teams. Both Debose and Jones are electric kick returners and while both are looking for their first return of the season they have had plenty in the past as Debose is knocking on the door of the SEC record. Alabama has already allowed one kick-off to be returned this year and Florida has had a few returned for big games. With a game as big is this one a kick-off return or punt return for a touchdown could be the difference.
Blake Sims vs. Jeff Driskel
Nick de la Torre: I think Alabama will rely on their stable of running backs this week but both quarterbacks still need to be sound with the football and manage the game for their team. Alabama fans won’t like to hear that and frequently bemoan the fact that they only have a “game-manager” as a quarterback.
If this game is close late one of these two quarterbacks is going to have to make a play to win their team the game.
Andrew Spivey: Both quarterbacks hear a lot of negativity from its fan base and both are still looking to gain national respect for their play. For Driskel he has to make quick decisions against the pass rush and also make smart decisions to limit the turnovers. Much can be said for Sims this will be his first test against a true SEC defense and with Florida likely to take away the run, the Alabama offense will rely on his right arm. Both Driskel and Sims are mobile quarterbacks and can hurt you outside the pocket so while neither fan base truly respects their quarterback the facts are one of them will lead his team to a victory on Saturday.
Dante Fowler vs. Cam Robinson
Nick de la Torre: Cam Robinson is listed as a freshman but he is far more advanced that a typical college freshman. At 6-6, 323-pounds, Robinson is a man amongst boys and has earned a starting job for one of the best teams in the country. Robinson will get his first true test of the season in Dante Fowler. Fowler’s speed is his biggest asset but Robinson moves very well for his size.
Fowler will need to use his experience, mix up his pass rushing moves and keep the young Robinson guessing if he’s going to make the kind of impact that the Gators need him to make.
Andrew Spivey: I love this match-up as five star defensive end Dante Fowler will go up against five star freshman offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson is a big 6-6, 325-pound lineman that has struggled against the pass rush this year which could lead to Fowler having a nice day. Robinson is very good against the run however so it could be a split match-up as far as who wins the battle. At the end of the day Florida needs Fowler to get a good pass rush against Robinson or whoever he goes up against when he moves around.