Kentucky Review / Alabama Preview

So much for the “upset” pick of the week.  Florida dominated the Mildcats……again……and continued to build momentum for it’s showdown at Alabama.  That’s 24 straight over Kentucky, and the aptly named Joker Philllips can talk another big game……next year.

The Gators finally came out of the tunnel and started hot.  The 2 straight TD drives really set the tone for the evening, and Kentucky never recovered.

The offense is starting to show some continuity, and now there is a sense that the staff knows what they have in terms of talent, and is figuring out (finally) how to utilize it.  Debose got some early touches to get himself going, Brantley was a little more accurate on his intermediate throws (although he still missed Hines twice on corner routes), and the OL started opening some holes consistently.  Thompson and Moore continue to make plays over the middle, and Hines hopefully will see more throws his way.  The only real downer was the minor injuries to Pouncey, Johnson, and Nixon on the OL, and the lingering foot injury to Demps.  I suspect all will show up ready to play this week, though.

Of course, the big story from this game was the impact of Trey Burton.  He certainly seems to possess ‘it’ in terms of playmaking ability and finding the endzone……just in time to give Bama a lot more to think about.  Excellent athlete, and seems cool in pressure situations……someone who other players will be happy to follow in the future.  He can also throw well enough if necessary to cross up the defense.

The Gator defense was solid again.  I’m still concerned with the lack of pass rush from the DL, but they continue to control the opponent’s running game, and they shut down Randall Cobb.  Two more interceptions to continue to lead the nation — Jon Bostic is really impressing for an inexperienced MLB in pass coverage, and Jeremy Brown showed again that he has elite skills at CB, and will continue to improve if he remains healthy.  The backups also received a lot of snaps in this game, which can only help as the SEC season’s grind starts to wear teams down.

Now it’s time for 2010’s version of the SEC Game of the Year — Florida vs. Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  While the Gators starting to find themselves on offense, this is a completely different level of opponent this week, both athletically and in coaching.  Despite the loss of 9 starters, the coaching of Nick Saban and a home crowd are great equalizers.  I have to believe there are some plays that the Florida staff has been saving for this game, but it will be the performance of the OL that will determine whether the Gators can win this one.

The Gator offense can’t play — or be coached — timidly.  No matter the outcome, the players have to remain aggressive and focused on their assignments.  They can no longer continue to rely on converting so many 3rd-and-long situations……they have to avoid them by staying on schedule on 1st down, and also taking more chances on early downs.  Alabama is still tough to run against, but their secondary can be beaten, and Florida needs to rattle their confidence early to keep them off-balance.  And expect a good dose of Burton in the single-wing, with a few wrinkles added in for this week.  Time for the younger guys to grow up and be accountable on the big stage.

The Florida defense has been solid against the run, but they are going against the best combination of OL blocking and RBs in the country this week.  Ingram and Richardson are beasts to tackle, and are both effective in the passing game as well.  I expect a good amount of the 5-2 look that was unveiled at Tennessee to slow the running game, but of course Bama now has tape to look at to combat it.  Expect the Tide to have some success running, and to break some long runs — they are just too good to shut down completely.  But if the Gator defense can force enough long distance plays on 2nd and 3rd down, that is where Bama is less comfortable, and Florida can get off the field and let the offense take its shots.

Ultimately, the Gator LB corps will have to play their best game of the season.  The Alabama coaches will try and isolate the young guys like Bostic and Jelani Jenkins in both run and intermediate pass schemes, and they have a devastating screen package as well, which is actually what I’m worried about most.  The seniors, AJ Jones and Brandon Hicks, have to play smart and fast to offset this advantage for Bama.  Trattou and Lemmens, the DEs in the 5-2, must play smart and recognize any run/pass option quickly.

Finally, the Gator special teams have been great so far at setting up the offense in good field position, while Chas Henry once again has shown why he may be the best in the country at limiting returns and kicking inside the 20.  They will be sorely tested this week, as Bama plays 2 of it’s offensive studs, Richardson and Jones, as KR and PR.

Ultimately, Florida has to weather the emotional storm in the 1st quarter and settle down and execute its gameplan.  An early strike on offense (or defense) would certainly help, but they can’t count on solely a few big plays to win this game.

Unless the Gators somehow collapse emotionally and mentally early, I believe they can win, or at least stay close enough in the second half to have a chance to steal one.  However, there is still too much uncertainty in the offense’s playmaking ability, and not enough proof that the DL can go toe-to-toe with Bama’s running game for 4 quarters.

Prediction – Alabama 27    Florida 17