Another big game, another debate. In this one, Year 2 returns to make the case for Florida, as Todd from Roll Bama Roll represents the Crimson Tide. The Team Speed Kills preview will appear this afternoon.
Florida opened the week as a 9.5- to 10-point favorite, according to Vegas. Are you surprised, and is that too high?
Roll Bama Roll: The only thing I'm surprised about is that they aren't a bigger favorite, really, what with all the (mostly warranted, sadly) hype that the Florida offense gets.
Year 2: Honestly, I am a little surprised. The Vegas Poll has Florida at No. 1 and Alabama at No. 5, and a ten-point spread between those two spots in a poll seems a bit excessive. At the same time, if Florida is really the better team, then they have a chance to run away with the game and cover that spread. This is why I don't bet on football.
Looking at the two team's injury reports, are you more worried about your team or less worried about the opponent? What, if any weaknesses, do those injuries expose?
Year 2: I am worried about Florida's defensive line injuries more than anything. Florida has no seniors on defense, which means the depth chart gets really young, really fast. With two interior linemen down, it hurts the ability of the line to rotate guys in and out throughout the game. With as good as Alabama's offensive line is, the healthy guys will need to stay as fresh as possible to keep battling.
Florida's modus operandi on defense has been similar to what it was in 2006. They don't force as many three-and-outs as you'd like, but when the other team starts threatening, they lock the opponent down and force a field goal attempt or turnover.
I'm not sure that the Gators can get away with that against the Tide's strong rushing attack. On the plus side, the secondary as a unit is better than it was in 2006, even if it lacks the singular talent of a Reggie Nelson. On top of that, no less than five linebackers have played at a starter's level at varying times, so the back seven may be able to make up for it.
Roll Bama Roll: One of the big keys to Alabama's success so far this year is that we've been incredibly fortunate with injuries. Just off the top of my head, I think we've lost maybe five starts to injury so far this year (Andre Smith and Marlon Davis missed a start each, Cody missed two, and Mike McCoy missed one), and the only injury issues we have at the moment are with reserve guys like Will Oakley (WR that really only saw time as a run blocker, out for the season with a broken collar bone), Roy Upchurch (great RB and the hero of the Tennessee game, but still the third back in the rotation, questionable with neck spasms but carried twice in the Iron Bowl and could probably go if needed), and Earl Alexander (another WR that really hasn't seen a lot of time, questionable with a banged up shoulder but could probably go if needed).
I am, however, concerned with any injuries that could happen during the game. LSU ran all over us with Cody not quite back to 100 percent, and with Smith and Davis out on the O-line against Tulane we had our worst showing of the season as far as blocking goes. We're still a very thin and young team, so ANY injury to a starter (and, in a lot of cases on defense where we rotate a ton of players, to key backups) is going to foul up the works enough that it could put Bama at a serious disadvantage right away.
Both of these teams have had unpleasant surprises at home in the last year or so (Alabama losing to Louisiana-Monroe; Florida losing to Mississippi). Be honest: Right after your team's disappointing loss, did you really think your team would be in the SEC Championship Game this season?
Roll Bama Roll: That's actually kind of a difficult question for me, because a disappointing loss like that this season would have definitely dashed my hopes for a shot at Atlanta, but since our loss came last season amidst the then-annual November skid, it only showed there were some serious issues going on with the Alabama football team and the ULM loss was just the biggest crack of the many, many cracks in the foundation.
Before this season started, I don't think anyone expected we'd go undefeated in the regular season and make it to Atlanta; most Alabama fans were pretty optimistic about improving to eight or nine wins with losses to at least Clemson, UGA and LSU (some of us, including myself, felt there was a pretty good shot at 10 because Clemson is, well, Clemson), and so long as the team showed improvement we would have been pretty happy. But I don't think our expectations were tempered by that horrifying loss, either. We were all concerned at the youth of the team, lack of depth defense, lack of explosive playmakers on offense, questions about the QB position, and etc., not "man, if we couldn't beat ULM we can't beat anyone!"
Year 2: I had my doubts about Florida going to Atlanta after the loss to Ole Miss, but they didn't even survive the day. Later that evening, Alabama obliterated Georgia to even up the SEC East standings. That game also provided a blueprint for defeating the Bulldogs and showed that whatever got into the water in Athens last season was not there this year.
All the problems I saw against Ole Miss were in large part correctable. The Gators were not going to fumble three times a game. They were not going to allow 86-yard touchdown passes every game. They were not going to come out flat every game either. They could adjust the blocking to deal with blitzes, spread the ball around, and shore up the secondary.
All of those came true, but it wasn't until after the win over LSU that I felt assured of the Gators going. I had been confident since before the season that Florida would beat Georgia, and I thought LSU was the last real threat besides UGA on the schedule.
If you had the choice of one of your opponents' players who would "pull a Plaxico" between now and the SEC Championship Game, that choice would be ...
Year 2: The obvious answers are guys like Mount Cody, Glen Coffee and Julio Jones. Don't get me wrong, I would shed no tears if they had to miss Saturday's contest. To take it in a slightly different direction while still being truthful, I'll pick Javier Arenas. He is a very dangerous return man.
Florida's kickoff coverage was shaky against the Citadel and downright atrocious against Florida State. Granted, FSU's Michael Ray Garvin leads the country in kickoff returns, but the coverage was downright bad.
I don't know if Florida can get the problem solved by Saturday, although you'd think so given how good UF has been at all other phases of special teams and that the punt coverage borders on phenomenal. If they don't, though, Arenas can make them pay with long returns. That then leads back into the potential issue with the defense I mentioned earlier, where I am unsure if UF can lock Bama down in the red zone like they have done to so many other teams.
Roll Bama Roll: Honestly, I don't want any of Florida's players to miss this game so that when Alabama wins, we won't have to hear "Florida is still the better team, they only won because Harvin/Tebow/Demps/Rainey/Whoever didn't play!" But since this is your game, I'll avoid the obvious choice of Tebow and go with Brandon James. Knocking Tebow out doesn't necessarily mean you stop the offense, because there is such a thing as a direct snap to any one of the ridiculously fast other members of the team, and besides, Ole Miss provided the blueprint on how to beat Florida: keep contain with your front seven and make damn sure your DBs don't abandon their coverage just 'cause it looks like Tebow might run. We have just as good of a front seven as the Rebels and a much better secondary, so he doesn't particularly worry me on that front. James, on the other hand, is a monster on kick returns and not having him around to set up the Florida offense with good field position every time we kick the ball would be nice.
Both schools were criticized or at least questioned when they hired their respective coaches: Florida because Urban Meyer's offense would supposedly never work in the SEC, and Alabama because the whole Nick Saban saga seemed kind of shady. Meyer's offense seems to work just fine, and Saban honestly does seem to enjoy coaching college more than the pros (as much as Nick Saban enjoys anything that doesn't involve kittens dying). Which coach has done a better job of proving the critics wrong?
Year 2: I would say this is the easiest question yet. Urban Meyer has categorically proved the critics wrong by having the top-scoring offense in the conference two years running. His offense clearly works, and there's no doubt about it.
The critics' complaint of Nick Saban is that he's a character who lacks character. While he hasn't done anything overtly shady in Tuscaloosa, depending on how you feel about oversigning recruits and talking on Web cams, few have let go of the footage of Saban telling everyone he categorically was not taking the Alabama job. It gets brought up every five minutes now that the coaching carousel is spinning.
I'm sure Saban has answered the critics to the satisfaction of just about every Crimson Tide partisan, but his reputation is still not that great nationally. Meyer has cleared all doubt in the national conscience about his offense, but Saban has not come close to clearing his name with the whole country. That will take many, many years.
For what it's worth, I don't blame him too much for it. If I had to deal with reporters trying to play gotcha all the time, I'd probably be pretty surly towards them too. Plus, if my heart was not in my job, I'd begin looking for another one in a flash. He could have handled things better, sure, but he made the best decision for himself and his family. I can't fault the man for that.
Roll Bama Roll: Those are really two different situations, so this one is kind of hard. Meyer's offense was questioned, sure, but in his case the proof is in the pudding; his offense works in the SEC, end of story. Saban, on the other hand, will always have the "I will not be the coach at Alabama" clip thrown back at him anytime someone wants to criticize him as a "mercenary coaching vagabond," no matter how many top recruits he lands and how many football games he wins. There's just no "proving the critics wrong" when the critics are criticizing the inner thought processes of a coach that they aren't inclined to believe when he tries to explain them anyway. Even if Saban coaches at Alabama for another 20 years and ends his career in Tuscaloosa, there will still be plenty of rival fans who hate the guy saying "He's a liar! He said he wouldn't be Alabama's coach!" -- so in that regard, Meyer has "done the better job at proving the critics wrong," though his was a much easier task.
True or false: Alabama will win if and only if its defense plays well, and Florida will win if and only if its offense plays well.
Roll Bama Roll: False on both. One of the things constantly overlooked in all the praise of the Florida offense is that their defense is playing some pretty good football, too, and a good bit of Florida's offensive success can be attributed to their defense and special teams. I haven't factored in the Florida State or The Citadel games yet, but after the Gamecocks gift-wrapped Florida's first 21 points for them (and with the UK blocked kick fest still fresh in my mind) I got curious and started looking at Florida's drive logs, discovering that roughly 40 percent of the time UF was starting their drives in opponent territory. That is just mind boggling, and it helps explain how they have had so much success in scoring. If you have to drive less than half the field nearly half the time you have the ball, you're going to get points (unless you're Auburn or Tennessee). So I think it's false to say that Florida will win only if the offense plays well, because their defense and special teams have been so good at creating turnovers and giving them great field position that they could probably afford an off night on offense and still come out ahead.
As for "Alabama will win if and only if its defense plays well" -- that's also a little untrue, but only because it isn't the complete picture. Alabama's offense hasn't put up near the same flashy numbers as Florida, but the grind it out, play smart and efficient football mentality has done just as much to help the defense as the defense has done to help the offense. In games where the defense has struggled some (Georgia, Ole Miss, and LSU in particular), the offense took the game onto their shoulders and slugged out some key drives to keep the other team's offense off the field and kill the clock. So even though I do think our defense has to play lights out against Florida to keep this thing from becoming a shoot out that we can't win, I think the bigger key to victory for Alabama is for the offense to continue to play as efficiently as it has over the course of the season.
Year 2: Todd is right that this statement isn't true in the case of Florida. Florida's defense and special teams can carry the team even if the offense ends up struggling. I don't know if they can for the entire game, but no one has been able to relatively stifle Florida's offense for more than a half since the first week of October.
I should also mention that he is right that the Gator offense has been given short fields by the defense and special teams. It is also true that against Florida State, who has a great defense and a D-line in the ballpark of Alabama's, UF had three touchdown drives of over 75 yards in the first half alone. They weren't garbage time deals. The Gators can drive the length of the field if needed.
The converse situation for Alabama is a lot less promising. If you have even just one player overpursue, Florida has four running backs in Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody who have the ability to gash you for 40 yards as a result. All but Moody could can take it to the house from anywhere on the field given enough space, especially so on the fast track of the Georgia Dome.
On top of that, Florida has four receivers in Harvin, Louis Murphy, Deonte Thompson, and Riley Cooper who are legit deep threats if you have blown coverage. TE Aaron Hernandez is faster than he looks, is great in traffic, and is difficult to take down. Any of the running backs, especially Demps, can be dangerous in screens too.
If Alabama's defense does not play well, the Tide will give up at least 42 points. Florida's first string defense has yet to give up more than 21 points that did not come off turnovers in a single game. That would then require three touchdowns off of turnovers for the Alabama offense to even it up in the event of a bad defensive game. While Florida turned it over three times against Ole Miss, that is unlikely to happen again. If the Tide defense doesn't play well, Florida will take the game comfortably.