The Gators are 2-0 in the SEC after cruising to an easy 48-10 victory over Kentucky on Saturday night. Now Florida moves on to face the first of three SEC Western division foes. Alabama, like Florida enters the game at 4-0 on the season. Head coach Will Muschamp met with the media during his weekly media availability Monday to discuss the upcoming game.
As we all know by now Alabama head coach Nick Saban hired Muschamp as his linebackers coach in 2001. Muschamp eventually became Saban’s defensive coordinator in 2003, the year LSU won the national championship. Muschamp said he is the coach at Florida because of what Saban did for him.
“I have great respect for Nick and the job he does,” Muschamp said. “I probably wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for the opportunity he gave me at LSU to be a position coach and then the coordinator.”
There is no question that Muschamp and Saban are both very intense coaches on the sidelines, but Muschamp said they have a lot more in common than just their fiery demeanors.
“Philosophically, we are on the same page about what we want to be defensively and from an identity standpoint,” Muschamp said. “He does a great job of managing his program top to bottom from recruiting, his philosophy, offense, defense, special teams and I have great respect for that.”
Muschamp talks Alabama
Alabama will always be known for their strong, physical running game, but Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has other weapons to use other than talented running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
“Offensively, Jim McElwain, their offensive coordinator, is a guy I have a lot of respect for,” Muschamp said. “They do a good job of running the football and the play actions off of that. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are two outstanding backs. AJ McCarron is very efficient. With only two interceptions so far this season, they’ve managed their football team very well with what they’ve asked them to do.
“Marquis Maze is a young man you always have to account for,” Muschamp continued. “He’s been there a long time, been a four-year starter for them and has done a nice job in their return game. Their offensive line also does a great job with the run game.”
The experience of Alabama’s defense seems to be a concern for Florida’s first year coach.
“They have a bunch of guys that have played a lot of football,” Muschamp said. “You look at guys like (Mark) Barron, (Dont’a) Hightower, (Tana) Patrick, (Courtney) Upshaw – those guys played two years ago in Pasadena. They were starters then, so they do a nice job defensively playing on the line of scrimmage. They are very well tied together as far as their unit is concerned.”
Right guard Jon Halapio appeared to have hurt his knee in the Kentucky game Saturday night and tight end Jordan Reed missed his second straight game with a “lower body” injury. Muschamp, however, said Florida should have a full roster this week, with the exception of Jeremy Brown.
Getting Reed back at tight end will allow Florida to do more in the passing game Muschamp said.
“Vertical passing game,” Muschamp said when asked about what Reed brings to the offense. “He’s a guy that can stretch the field. He’s a guy that blocks well at the point of attack, but he’s also a guy you have to account for in the passing game, he’s an accomplished receiver.”
Will Florida be able to throw against Alabama?
Florida racked up over 400 yards rushing against Kentucky. Alabama will come to the Swamp with the No. 1 defense in the conference in rushing defense. Muschamp said Florida will have to throw the ball to win the game.
“You have to be multiple when you play Alabama, you can’t be one-dimensional with what you do,” Muschamp said. “A lot of our offense has been attributed to the fact that three of our first four games were in-hand by halftime, so we ran the ball in order to end the game. John (Brantley) is going to be able to throw the football. He’s been outstanding; he’s played very well for us. What I see in practice is a very productive passing attack.”
Conserve the playmakers on offense
It’s clear to see that running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are the focal point of the Florida offensive attack. So what does Muschamp do to save their bodies from taking a beating over the course of a season?
“We don’t have a whole lot of contact with them in practice,” Muschamp said. “These guys have played a lot of football; they play very well and are physically tough players. Most of the contact they’re enduring is only during the game. We do a lot of things surrounding ball security with them throughout the week consciously, but they don’t take a lot of hits during the week.”
Muschamp said that Gator fans can plan to see a lot of Demps and Rainey on Saturday.
“Obviously, those are two of our better playmakers, so they’re going to touch the ball,” he said. “What different ways will they touch the ball: whether it’s from the slot, from outside, matching up on a linebacker on a vertical route – the touches we get them could be different and not as conventional as we’ve seen to this point.”
Gators developing depth at linebacker
If you have watched the first four games of the year, it’s clear to see that linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic have emerged as playmakers for this Florida defense. With a nice game against Kentucky, redshirt freshman Michael Taylor could start to see more time and help Florida with depth at the position.
”I think Mike (Taylor) has done some nice things for us in his opportunities – he was very productive the other night,” Muschamp said. “We have to continue to play better behind that. Dee Finley, Graham Stewart, Chris Johnson, Darrin Kitchens are guys that have had some opportunities. All of those guys need to continue to progress to give us some quality snaps.”
Gerald Christian emerging
Tight end Gerald Christian went from tight end, to linebacker, back to tight end in a matter of a few months, but the sophomore is finally settling in the Florida offense.
Christian caught the eye of Muschamp after his performance against Kentucky.
“(He played) Very well – he caught the vertical route down the middle,” Muschamp said. “I was very pleased with that and thought he blocked well. He did a really nice job in the pass game and had a critical third-down conversion coming off their goal line when we were backed up. I’m very pleased with Gerald’s production.”
Players of the week
Jeff Demps – Offensive player of the game
Jon Bostic – Defensive player of the game
Kyle Koehne – Scrap Iron award
Gerald Christian – Offensive big play award
Chris Rainey – Extra effort award
Josh Evans – Hard hat award
Omar Hunter – Extra effort award
Matt Elam, Michael Taylor, Omar Hunter, Jon Bostic, and Jelani Jenkins – Ball hawk award
Chris “Juice” Johnson – Special teams player of the game
Gator Country football and recruiting analyst Derek Tyson can be reached at Derek@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at DerekTysonGC.