Each week, Gator Country will stop to recap all of the news and notes from the week leading up to the game. Today we recap everything that has happened leading up to Florida’s game Saturday against Alabama.
We provide you with an overview of all the Gators news stories we’ve published in the past week with links to each, as well as three key questions, a look inside the enemy camp and more.
|Florida vs. Alabama – Oct. 1, 2011|
|After knocking off Kentucky for its first road win of the season, No. 12 Florida will take on No. 3 Alabama looking to snap a two-game losing skid to the Crimson Tide. Neither of the last two games have been very close, but on paper this looks like a more even matchup.|
Florida’s players aren’t putting any stock into the revenge factor, though, and the Gators are treating Alabama as a nameless, faceless opponent. The Florida coaches have emphasized taking one game at a time, and the team has clearly bought into their philosophy that Alabama is just one more game on the schedule.
Still, the Gators have admitted there’s a little more intensity and buzz surrounding this week as Florida enters Saturday’s game as a home underdog for the first time since 2003. Florida’s players have said the Gators are ready for Alabama.
Perhaps one of the biggest things to watch going into the game will be how Alabama attacks quarterback John Brantley. Brantley left the Kentucky game after getting the wind knocked out of him late in the second quarter but said he simply had the wind knocked out of him.
Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel got some meaningful reps against the Wildcats, which offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said was a great thing for the young quarterback, even though he had a very unproductive game.
One thing Driskel’s performance proved was there’s absolutely no quarterback controversy at Florida as long as John Brantley is healthy, which seems to be the case.
Florida’s offense will face a stiff test against the Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide field the biggest, most athletic unit Florida has seen so far and could challenge the Gators’ running game, which has been downright electric through the first four games.
Weis is confident in the offensive line, though, and he expects the Gators will be able to run the football. Florida’s players have left little doubt about how confident they are, too, saying the will run the ball against Alabama.
Even if Alabama has more success slowing the Florida running game, Weis said he’s confident his team will be able to hit some passes over the top of the Alabama defense.
The Gators expect tight end Jordan Reed and Andre Debose back after both missed the Kentucky game with minor injuries. Reed’s return should boost Florida’s tight end corps, giving the Gators a full complement of players there for the first time this year.
Meanwhile Gerald Christian emerged as play-maker last week against Kentucky, catching his first career touchdown pass and showing for the first time that Florida can effectively use the tight end in the seam. That could be a big weapon for the Gator against Alabama.
In any case, Florida certainly knows Alabama has the talent to slow down the Gators’ offense. Weis said he’ll throw the kitchen sink at the Crimson Tide, so we should see Florida’s full playbook on offense this week.
On the other side of the ball, the Florida defense is bonding at just the right time. The Gators have increased their sack and turnover output each week, which is a great sign for the team heading into a game where every sack and turnover will count.
Florida has game-planned against a number of different things Alabama will throw at Florida. In particular, the Gators are wary of the Crimson Tide screen game, which Alabama has torched Florida with in the past two meetings.
The other huge emphasis for Florida this week has been tackling the Alabama backs quickly and efficiently. The Gators have had big problems with broken tackles against the Crimson Tide in the past two meetings.
With Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy easily the best, most physical backs Florida has faced this season, tackling well will be very important.
Florida’s young secondary has improved noticeably since the season began, but Alabama’s best bet may still be attacking in the passing game.
Safety Matt Elam is seeing things quicker on the back end, which has helped the entire unit react quicker to changes in alignment, coverage and more.
Elam also recognizes the importance of forcing turnovers against Alabama, and he said the team that forces the most turnovers will win. Florida has forced just one turnover in the past three meetings against Alabama, while the Crimson Tide have forced five.
|Three Key Questions|
|1. Can the Alabama defense limit Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps enough to force the Florida offense to change? Florida’s running game will face one of its toughest tests against an Alabama defense that has enough size and speed in the front seven to limit the Gators’ effectiveness running to the outside.|
With Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley out, the Gators may catch a little bit of a break in the passing game, as Mosley was one of Alabama’s better cover corners. If the Gators can make effective use of the tight end over the middle, it will keep Alabama from spreading its coverage to play a little closer to the edges of the line.
If Alabama can slow down the Florida running game, the onus is squarely on John Brantley and Florida’s passing game to keep the offense going. If not, Florida will be in good shape to pull off the upset in the Swamp.
|2. Will the Florida tackling look like 2009 and 2010 or 2008? Florida tackled well in its SEC Championship win over Alabama in 2008, but couldn’t bring down anyone in its blowout losses in 2009 and 2010. Simply put, if the tackling isn’t significantly improved, Alabama will be tough to slow down.|
Florida has had very few problems tackling this season, with only a few issues popping up with an individual defensive back or two. The tackling in the front seven has been excellent for Florida all season, which has to continue for the Gators to slow the Alabama running game Saturday night.
If Florida doesn’t allow broken tackles to extend drives, the Florida defense should be able to keep the offense in striking distance of Alabama throughout the game.
|3. Will the turnovers continue to come against Alabama?After recording no turnovers in the season opener, the Gators have doubled their takeaways each of the past two weeks. The winner of this game will likely need to win the turnover battle, so takeaways will be extremely important.|
Florida has dropped a handful of interceptions throughout the season and that won’t cut it against Alabama. The Gators need every turnover they can get to knock off a very fundamentally sound Crimson Tide team.
|Eying the Enemy|
|Alabama has a few key injury concerns, including a nicked up backup running back. However, Eddie Lacy is expected to play against the Gators, so Florida will face the full force of the Alabama rushing attack.|
Alabama’s offense has relied on the running game through the first four games, which has led many to question the Crimson Tide’s downfield passing game, not too unlike Florida.
Another injury that could actually sideline a key Alabama player is to linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is probably out for this weekend’s showdown. That’s a big blow to Alabama, who will have its hands full trying to slow down Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. The Crimson Tide have had two speedy freshman play Demps and Rainey in practice in an effort to prepare for their speed.
While Alabama is a small favorite over the Gators, the Crimson Tide may be in for a bit of a surprise in the Swamp, which could be the game’s real “X-factor.”
|What We Think|
|With the biggest game of the season so far on the line, the Gator Country crew checks in to provide our thoughts and some analysis on this weekend’s game.|
Adam Pincus takes a close look at Alabama and breaks down some of the things the Tide does well. Derek Tyson goes in-depth to provide a 10-point breakdown on Alabama and what Florida needs to do to win.
Last, but not least, the entire Gator Country staff picks all the SEC and Top 25 games set to go down this weekend.
|Kickoff Time – 8:00 p.m. ET|
|TV – CBS|
|Radio – GRN | Sirius 220 | XM 199|