The Florida Gators are going to have to win some interesting mini-battles throughout their game in Alabama in order to come away with a win. The Tide is coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Arkansas and knows another loss ends any realistic hope of winning the SEC West. The Gators already have beaten one of the top six teams and begin a stretch of playing the other four contenders with this contest.
Of course, we probably need to add the Razorbacks to the list of SEC contenders, don’t we? For the Gators, going three-and-one in the next four weeks would be an incredible run. That’s much harder to do if they lose the first of the four. Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial match ups in this one. Little battles that we’ll be watching closely because the team that wins the majority of these contests will likely comer out with the victory.
Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis versus DJ Hall and Keith Brown — The Florida corners struggled at times with the big, talented receivers of Tennessee. Brown and Hall are every bit as good Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain. The Gator corners have to play tighter coverage while making sure they avoid the big play that killed Florida in last year’s game.
Jarvis Moss/Derrick Harvey versus Andre Smith — Alabama’s man-child of an offensive tackle is a powerhouse run blocker and one of the most impressive true freshman I’ve ever seen up front. But the young stud has not seen the kind of edge pressure that the Gator defensive ends can offer up. If Smith can protect John Parker Wilson’s blind side the Gator defense task will be much tougher. If the Gator pressure is in control, UF could cruise.
Gator rush defenses versus ‘Bama power running attack — The Gators have been unbelievably stingy against the run allowing just 42 yards a game. Alabama averages 149 yards a game on the ground and would like to run the ball about 60 percent of the time. Kenneth Darby is the best back Florida has seen — IF he’s healthy. Ball control is critical to Alabama’s chances.
Chris Hetland and Van Tiffin versus their minds — Hetland has not made a field goal all season and last week had two extra points blocked. Tiffin (who could be replaced) had as bad a week as any kicker ever has in ‘Bama’s loss to Arkansas. He missed three field goals including two that would have been game-winners and pushed an extra point in overtime. If either has a missed kick hangover, it could be very significant.
John Parker Wilson versus The Swamp — Alabama’s young QB showed a lot of poise in his first road game last week, but the atmosphere he faced in Fayetteville pales in comparison to what he’ll experience Saturday. It’ll be the first really revved up crowd of the season. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.
Florida mistakes versus Alabama’s discipline — The Gators were a great turnover differential team last year. Their plus-18 was best in the SEC and third in the nation. This year, the Gators are minus-three while Alabama tops the SEC at plus-seven. Penalties are another glaring difference. The Gators have been penalized an average of 63 yards a game. That’s the worst number in the SEC. Alabama, on the other hand is second best at just 36 yards a game. Florida needs to break even in these areas.
Gator receivers versus Alabama’s physical man-to-man — Last year the Gator receivers did not cope well with the physical man-to-man pressure they received from Alabama’s defensive backs and rarely got open. Jemalle Cornelius told me earlier this week they have been talking about that and working on it every day. The big play potential is there if they are successful because Alabama has not had much pass rush this season registering only four sacks in four games and three of those were against Hawaii.
History versus History — The Gators are celebrating their history all year long and this weekend is the highlight, with a five million dollar fund raiser, throwback uniforms and a very special presentation. Alabama is the most historical program in the SEC and no school honors its past better than they do. This is perhaps the most important “get there early” situation in UF history. You’ll regret missing the pre-game stuff this week….. Except for the inane “fight, fight, Florida U.” cheer.