Overall, what did this game have to tell us?
It confirmed what everyone should have known before the season: Alabama is a legit national title contender, and Florida is not. Anyone paying attention from, oh, the NFL Draft and onwards should have been able to tell you that.
Beyond that point, it didn't say a whole lot. Florida self destructed from the word go. I came away from the Alabama-Arkansas game believing that the Crimson Tide didn't really steal the game away in the fourth quarter. It merely did what it needed to do to be in position to take it when Arkansas began giving it away. This game with Florida was like that fourth quarter against Arkansas, only four quarters long.
And that's what's potentially the scary thing about this game. Alabama never brought out the big guns on offense. It didn't need to. Florida was so busy tripping over its own two feet that Bama's offense didn't have to be anything but vanilla. It's impossible to assert that, minus the turnovers, the Gators would have had a chance to win at the end. We simply don't know what would have happened if Alabama actually tried hard on offense.
Would you like to elaborate on these Florida errors you keep harping on?
Not really, but for you dear reader, I will.
Florida's defense had a few unforced errors in the first half, the most egregious being Omar Hunter's 20 yards worth of penalties on Alabama's only field goal drive. Without them, Jeremy Shelley would have probably had to attempt a kick longer than the 28-yard chip shot he nailed. Most of the other errors were by first year starters, and they were the kind that first year starters make like taking bad angles and overpursuing. Those are going to happen.
On every single one of Florida's offensive drives, someone made an unforced error of some sort. You name it, they did it from a dropped pass that would have got a third down conversion to more bad snaps that threw off timing of plays to half of the offensive line missing an audible. John Brantley's interceptions were throws to the middle of the field under duress, something you're never supposed to do. Special teams were not immune either, because on Julio Jones's 41-yard punt return, the long snapper ended up being the gunner. Jones avoided him easily and no one was in position since Jones hadn't been slowed down
I hate to go on because it will sound like I'm trying to take credit away from Bama's defense, which had a pretty good day. However if you talk about this game without emphasizing how many unforced errors the Gator offense made, you're not telling the full story.
What was up with Greg McElroy?
That is an excellent question. He appeared to be channeling Stephen Garcia most of the night, as he threw his body around and never slid or stepped out of bounds to avoid contact. I can't imagine that Nick Saban and Jim McElwain were particularly happy about him getting hit so often.
Beyond that, McElroy didn't have a particularly good night throwing the ball. That 11-17 mark looks nice, but that's because he threw mostly screens and underneath stuff. That's what the defense was giving him, so nothing's wrong there. However, when it came to throwing the ball more than five yards up the field, he was just one of six for 14 yards. A couple of the incompletions were broken up; the rest were terrible throws. His scampering on busted plays made up for some of that, but he was awful when it came to anything but the easiest of throws.
How much blame goes to Steve Addazio?
Hoo boy. That's the question of the week, isn't it? For starters, I'm not sure he watched any tape of the Alabama-Arkansas game. Alabama's defensive problems were all in the passing defense, not the rushing defense. Indeed, Florida would find most its success through the air. However, Florida ended up with 32 passes to 31 rushes (though three or four of Brantley's carries were on pass plays).
Plus, it was painfully obvious that Alabama's secondary doesn't cover running backs in passing plays that well. Ryan Mallett completed seven passes to his backs for 74 yards and a touchdown. Brantley threw to his backs once, a swing pass that Emmanuel Moody dropped. Florida did run one play with WR Andre Debose lined up next to Brantley, and Debose ran Ronnie Wingo's TD-scoring wheel route. Brantley hit a wide open Debose for 26 yards, Florida's longest play of the game. It was never attempted again. Then you had stuff like running the speed option with Brantley to the short side of the field and running a red zone pass play with two guys in the same area that allowed one linebacker to double cover two different receivers.
Beyond that, Florida's line had a terrible day. By my count, nine of Florida's 20 offensive unforced errors were on the offensive line. Addazio has been shuffling guys around all season, and it was understandable when players were hurt. Now they're not, and he's still doing it. Xavier Nixon was far better at left tackle than right tackle, and one time he and RG Jon Halapio employed jailbreak screen pass blocking on a hand off after an audible. Maurice Hurt, a career guard, got beat a couple times while at tackle. Whatever Addazio is doing as offensive line coach, it's not working.
Can you say enough good things about McElwain or Alabama's defensive line after this one?
It would be tough, for sure. The way that McElwain countered Florida's shiny new 5-2 "heavy" set was textbook, as he spread the field with receivers and killed it with screens and underneath throws. He found success in the running game by sending Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson around the edges where they could beat Florida's inexperienced back seven guys like Jon Bostic, Jeremy Brown, and Matt Elam. Florida played more nickel in the second half than the first, and the added speed improved the defenses's effectiveness. We'll never know how McElwain would have countered that, because he never needed to.
As for Alabama's defensive line, it looked as fast and fearsome as ever. Dareus looked largely unblockable when Florida's line remembered to try to block him, and the rest of the guys abused the Gators' offensive front. It was important to see that from those guys after they were essentially silent through three quarters against Arkansas. They recognized where the flaws were in UF's line (namely: the right side) and hammered away with abandon. Brantley has never felt so much heat as he did Saturday night.
If there is a rematch in Atlanta, how can Florida avoid a third straight bad loss?
Step one is take care of the ball. It's not easy to beat anyone when you're -4 in turnovers on the day. Step two is figure out a coherent red zone plan. Florida had three 69+ yard drives against the Tide, more than the Gators have managed against anyone but Kentucky. They moved the ball but couldn't seal the deal.
Step three is probably to scrap the 5-2 or at least use it less. Florida actually got pressure more consistently with four down linemen than with five because Duke Lemmens was a lot better as a rusher (as he always is in the 4-3 base) than as a part-time rusher/part-time zone defender (as he is in the 5-2). Florida's defense simply played better with more speed than with more size.
Ultimately, Florida was always going to be in better shape in December than in early October. Not only are there a lot of new faces in new places, both the offensive system and the defensive coordinator are brand new. Change takes time to get right, and Alabama, with new faces on defense but complete schematic continuity, didn't have nearly as much change to deal with.
Today, it's difficult to see Florida winning the hypothetical rematch in December. The Gators have seven more games to hold off South Carolina for the SEC East bid to the title game and convince us otherwise.