5 keys to the Alabama-Florida game
Say goodbye to the cupcakes. It’s time for a real meal.
That’s what the SEC menu will serve up for Alabama and Florida fans on Saturday when the teams face off in The Swamp. This will certainly be the first true test for No. 9 Florida as they host the top-ranked Crimson Tide. The Gators have feasted on lesser opponents, beating Florida Atlantic and South Florida by a combined score of 77-34.
The Crimson Tide were supposed to be tested during their season-opening game against Miami. The Hurricanes were not made aware of that fact. Along with the Mercer game, Alabama has beaten its first two opponents by a combined score of 92-27.
Much of the uncertainty around these programs has revolved around youth at key positions, especially quarterback. Alabama has looked spectacular with Bryce Young stepping in as a new starter this season. Florida’s quarterback play has been a bit more unpredictable. The Gators have started junior quarterback Emory Jones in their first two games, but redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson has made enough big plays to at least consider a change.
After an email exchange with former NFL scout and college assistant Chris Landry of landryfootball.com, here are 5 factors that will determine the winner of the Alabama-Florida game on Saturday:
Assignment and alignment
Florida, as the above cumulative score would indicate, has played fairly well. Still, there have been some assignment errors that have cost them. Those types of mistakes against Alabama will get most teams beat — badly. Florida better avoid those mistakes on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide will have its own set of challenges in their first true road test. Alabama, which likes to run its offense out of the shotgun, better have its communication down pat before they face the Gators in The Swamp, which seats over 90,000 fans.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Florida head coach Dan Mullen have a history of making sure their players know exactly what their responsibilities are. That means that one mistake by either team could swing the game.
Florida struggled last season to defend inside runs. We really don’t know how much they’ve improved because they haven’t been tested. That will change on Saturday. Alabama will certainly challenge the interior of Florida’s defensive line.
There’s no guaranteeing that Bama will win that matchup. Remember, the Tide replaced 3 starters on the offensive line this season and they haven’t really been challenged this season either. As for pressuring the quarterback, Florida has been inconsistent. The Gators were able to pressure Florida Atlantic but didn’t do so nearly as well against South Florida.
Florida’s secondary is its biggest issue, per Landry. Star cornerback Kaiir Elam and nickelback Jadarrius Perkins have graded out well this season. However, the rest of the secondary hasn’t been nearly as good. Florida has shuffled its secondary lineup throughout the first 2 weeks of the season.
“I think the energy has been there, but from an assignment and technique standpoint,” Landry said. “The younger guys have had growing pains, leading to free releases off the line of scrimmage. … The lack of consistency has shown up on film despite two decisive wins.”
Quarterback Play 1.0
It seems doubtful that Young will suddenly regress after looking incredibly poised in 2 games this season. However, it could happen. There is a long list of good quarterbacks who have played poorly in Gainesville. I don’t think Young will be on that list, but we’ll see for sure. As long as Young can manage the noise, he should play well. That could be bad for the Gators, especially with those questions in the defensive backfield.
Quarterback Play 2.0
As mentioned, Mullen has a decision to make at quarterback. He can go with a more experienced quarterback or one that seems to provide an instantaneous spark to Florida’s offense. Then, there’s a third option. Florida can simply continue to play both quarterbacks. That might work for now, but it doesn’t seem like the best long-term plan. It may also be a bad plan to play a redshirt freshman against a very stout Alabama defense that has experience on its side.
The Alabama-Florida game is a buffet of interesting matchups. Enjoy.