Statistically, Alabama and Florida appear to be very similar teams. Will Muschamp is a Nick Saban disciple, so you would expect there to be similarities defensively. Offensively, Charlie Weiss seems to be using a similar template as Alabama to guide the Gator offense until the training wheels can come off of John Brantley (or until Jeff Driskel takes over).
Though similar stat-wise, Bama is generally considered the better team because of better depth and experience across the board. The Gators aren’t necessarily less talented, but they do have different types of players (Trent Richardson vs. Chris Rainey, etc.). Alabama has also played a bit more difficult schedule than Florida, even though the Gators have played two SEC games, so we’re not sure what to expect from Florida in a game of this magnitude.
So given these things, how do the Gators beat Bama? Here are five things I think the Gators have to do to win:
** Establish the run game. Yeah, yeah, this is a cliche, but it’s also true for this game, too. Last week, I thought the Razorbacks could win sans the running game because I thought Bobby Petrino could devise an offensive plan via the pass to attack the soft spots in the Bama D. Petrino also had confidence in his quarterback, Tyler Wilson, to get the job done. (We all saw how that worked out, though.) The Gators obviously don’t have a Petrino offense or similar players. But they do have Rainey and Jeff Demps, two smallish-type backs (as compared to Richardson and Eddie Lacy), that have fueled the Gator offense thus far, and in doing so, they’ve kept the pressure off of Brantley and allowed him to assume the game manager role. Now’s not the time to change horses.
** Establish the short passing game. There are worse things you could do than getting the ball to Rainey and Demps in space. Swing passes and screens fall into that category. Worse case, you have an incomplete pass.* Next worse case, a three yard gain or a three yard loss. Best case, they take one to the house. The short passing game goes hand-in-hand with establishing the running game. Although the Gators are very capable, they don’t need to hit home runs every play. Keep hitting the three and four yarders and the big plays will eventually come. (* I guess a pick six would actually be the worst case, but you get my point.)
** Take some shots down the field. A typical Saban defense is very aggressive. That does leave the secondary open to a big play now and again. Take some shots down the field and test the secondary.
** Don’t turn the ball over and don’t have a special teams goof-up. Another cliche, but a well-worn one for a reason. Take a look at the play-by-play from the Alabama-Arkansas game. Alabama only leads 10-7 before DeQuan Menzie’s pick six. The score remained 17-7 until Marquis Maze’s amazing punt return in the third quarter. True, there were some other factors involved – namely beating up Tyler Wilson, but after the punt return, Arkansas was completely out of the game, beaten. Take those plays back and Arkansas is still in the game and you see what happens in the fourth quarter.
** Make the Bama offense turn the ball over. Of course, all of the above don’t matter if you don’t stop the Bama offense. If Alabama commits to the run, you have to be able to slow it down, but eventually, there will be passing situations. The Gators will have to take advantage of these situations to put pressure on McCarron and hope that pressure creates turnovers. Alabama hasn’t played a game this season where they’ve had to leave their initial offensive game plan. Create some turnovers and that places more and more of the game on McCarron, who has yet to be tested in that type of “win-the-game” scenario.
These are two very good teams with very talented athletes. The Gators won’t have to play a perfect game to win and if they can accomplish several of the above, they stand a great chance to win. But Bama won’t go quietly. I’ll try to have my thoughts posted soon on what Bama has to do to win.