Alabama at Florida: More questions than answers at this point for Tide
It’s been difficult to find faults in Alabama’s football team this season. That’s nothing new.
What is new, however, is unknown. How will Alabama react to a true road game? How will Bryce Young handle his first true road start? We’ll find out this week when the Crimson Tide travel to Florida to open their SEC season.
In a Week 1 win, Bama throttled nationally ranked Miami 44-13. That win was in Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. With Tuscaloosa just a few hours from Atlanta, there were more Alabama fans in attendance than Chick-fil-A has chicken nuggets.
Alabama players had to pack their belongings, but the Miami game wasn’t a true road game. That win also lost some luster after Miami struggled to beat Appalachian State 25-23 in South Florida in Week 2.
Bama’s first “real” home game was against Mercer on Saturday. Despite a bit of a clunky beginning, Bama won easily 48-14. Don’t expect such an easy contest on Saturday when Bama travels to Florida.
Georgia was the preseason pick to win the SEC East, but the Gators were picked 2nd and expected to contend. So far, they’ve played like a legitimate threat to repeat as SEC East champions. Florida has beaten Florida Atlantic and South Florida by a combined score of 77-34. With two fairly easy wins to open the season, Florida and Alabama have yet to have to delve deep into the playbooks. There was just no need.
That unknown will surely be a factor in the Alabama-Florida game — beginning with the Gators’ developing QB situation. Emory Jones has started both games and had his moments. Anthony Richardson has come off the bench both games and looked like Cam Newton.
Dan Mullen said after Saturday’s game that Jones still was the starter. But if there’s one thing Alabama fans know, it’s that it takes a dynamic QB to take down the Tide.
Either way, this will be a different Gators attack than the one Alabama encountered in the 2020 SEC Championship Game.
So there are legitimate questions on both sidelines. Saturday will begin to reveal some answers as to how good this Alabama team is, exactly.
Alabama’s first challenge will be all about the crowd. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is one of the loudest venues in college football. It’s not an easy place to play, especially for a first-year starter at quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line with only two returning starters from last season. That’s what Alabama will field in Gainesville on Saturday.
Don’t fret for Young or his teammates. They’re still a significant favorite to beat Florida. However, that doesn’t mean Alabama won’t have some hurdles to clear and adversity to overcome.
Fan noise will be something Alabama must account for. The Crimson Tide run much of their offense from the shotgun. Young hasn’t heard noise like he’s going to hear Saturday. There could be some missteps and miscommunication. Hand clapping can’t overcome 90,000-plus fans. Visual cues will be key for alignment, audibles and even the snap.
It’s easy to think that these teams just met a short while ago, but there’s not much that can be drawn from last season’s SEC Championship Game heading into this week’s game. The Crimson Tide beat the Gators 52-46 as Bama went on to an undefeated season and a national championship. Alabama’s record-setting offense had jelled and was in prime form against Florida in that championship game matchup. Now, Bama’s offense is continuing to find its way — albeit in impressive fashion. Bama looks to be better on defense this season than they were last year.
However, Florida has also evolved. The Gators’ offense exploded on Saturday with 619 yards and a 42-20 victory at South Florida. That was just part of the story.
Jones has struggled as a starter this season, but that seems to open the door for Richardson to impact Saturday’s game. The redshirt freshman has played extremely well when he’s had the chance. Richardson completed all 3 of his pass attempts for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns on Saturday. Richardson also ran the ball 4 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. He already has 2 TD runs this season longer than 70 yards. Jones completed 14-of-22 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown on Saturday while picking up 81 yards on the ground mostly on an 80-yard touchdown run.
Richardson just seems like a better fit for Mullen’s offense than Jones. For Alabama, that provides yet another unknown. Who will start? How much will both play? Richardson and Jones aren’t polar opposites when it comes to their skill set, but Richardson is different enough — and explosive enough — to provide another unknown factor for the Tide.
Here’s yet another unknown. Richardson was limping toward the end of the game on Saturday, after his 80-yard TD run. Will he be ready to play Saturday? Will he be 100%? More unknowns for Alabama head coach Nick Saban to deal with.
The good news for Alabama fans, as if they needed any, is that Saban knows Mullen’s offense well from his time at Mississippi State. The teams played every year as SEC West foes and then squared off again in December, so there should be nothing schematically that catches Saban and his defensive coaches off guard.
That doesn’t mean there’s a checklist for winning at Florida. There are far too many unknowns for that.