Game day: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Florida Gators
The Florida Gators celebrate after a touchdown vs. Alabama in the 2020 SEC championship game. (Photo Credit: USA Today)

Finally, the day has come! Today the #11 Florida Gators will battle the #1 Alabama Crimson tide in a matchup of epic proportions.

Florida fans circled this game in anticipation since the announcement came that Alabama would once again return to the Swamp. This is a game that could potentially be a program-defining victory for the Gators, and all eyes will be set on Gainesville for the matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Gators. This includes the eyes of top recruits. Names like WR Evan Stewart, DL Walter Nolan, S Azareyeh Thomas, and TE Jaleel Skinner will be in the Swamp for this key matchup.

Let’s dive into a breakdown of everything you need to know, going into today’s game.

Key Storylines

“Mullen vs. Saban”— It’s no secret that the Florida Gators have struggled against Alabama under Nick Saban, dating back to the Urban Meyer era. In fact, Florida is 0-7 vs. Alabama since Florida Defeated Alabama 31-20 in the 2008 SEC Championship Game. On top of that, Dan Mullen has never defeated Alabama as a Head Coach. He is 0-10 against the Saban lead Crimson Tide. This has been Dan’s black mark over his career.

This doesn’t mean that Dan Mullen can’t do it though. For Mullen, beating Nick Saban has been “oh so close”. In his two most recent matchups with the Tide, Dan Mullen’s teams have lost by a combined 13 points. In 2017, his overperforming Mississippi St. Bulldogs held the lead 21-17, going into the 4th quarter. And in the 2020 Matchup between Florida and Alabama, Mullen was one possession, and one missed targeting call away from a completely different outcome.

“AR15 vs. Hammy”— After Anthony Richardson proved that he is one of the most explosive players in the Nation, we have seen quite the quarterback debate brewing in Gainesville. Not only does he lead the team in rushing (275 rushing yards) but he also leads the team in passing efficiency (quarterback rating of 261.2). This has led many analysts and fans alike to clamor for Anthony to start against Alabama.

During the game against South Florida, a damper was put on this idea. During his most recent electrifying touchdown run, Anthony tightened his hamstring, which took him out of the game. Anthony is now a gametime decision for the Alabama game. At this point, baring more coaching antics by Dan Mullen, we know that Anthony Richardson will not start and instead, Embattled quarterback Emory Jones will take the start once again. We do know, however, that if healthy, Anthony will play, and assuredly, he will have an impact on the game.

“The Talent Gap”— The final storyline I want to bring up is the talent differential of these teams. Anyone with knowledge of college football knows that Alabama appears on paper to be the more talented football team. But how much more talented is Alabama than Florida? Well, I am a big proponent of the 247 Sports Team Talent Composite. According to this, while Alabama is the #1 team in the country from a talent standpoint, Florida is also #7 in this talent rating.

Just last week, the #9 (247 talent rated) Oregon Ducks defeated the #3 (247 talent rated) Ohio State Buckeyes. The 6 spot talent gap upset isn’t the only similarity to take note of, but at game-time, Oregon was a 14.5 point underdog. And as of the time of writing this article, Florida sits as a 14.5 point underdog to Alabama (at home I might add). All I’m saying is the talent gap is there, but it doesn’t preclude Florida from getting the major upset.

Key Matchup

The key matchup this game, to me, will be the offensive line of Alabama vs. the front seven of the Florida Gators.

In a star-studded Alabama Crimson Tide team, the main weakness (if I can call it that), has been its young offensive line. In fact, this will be the first major road start for Alabama’s center. This is an especially important position because the center leads the offensive line and needs to communicate with the quarterback to make the right calls. To make matters even more dire for the offensive line, Florida sports the most talented defensive line it’s had in the last 6 years.

I look for Zach Carter, Gervon Dexter, Khris Bogle, and Brenton Cox Jr. to have themselves a game on the defensive line. It’s no secret that I like our front seven matchups versus any team in the country, however, this matchup will be especially important to the outcome of this game. For Florida to have any chance at winning, they will need to prevent Bryce Young from having all day to throw the ball, and this starts on the defensive line.

Players to Watch

Anthony Richardson, QB – As mentioned before, Anthony Richardson will likely be a game-time decision in terms of playing. If that’s the case, then why am I calling a player who may not even be on the field a “Player to watch”? It’s because he is that important to the outcome of the game. He single-handedly may be the great equalizer in this matchup. If he can be as explosive and as much a difference-maker as he was last week, vs. South Florida, then this game could have a very different outcome, especially since even in limited snaps, he has looked much more impressive than quarterback Emory Jones, and looks to have a higher ceiling in terms of being able to positively impact the game.

Jason Marshall Jr, CB – We have talked quite a bit on this site about how impressed we are with Kaiir Elam and it’s no secret that we think he can hold his own against even the most talented receivers in the nation, however, it is also no secret that Nick Saban and Alabama will likely scheme away from Kaiir. This will leave a major responsibility on the 2 talented but young corners (Avery Helm and Marshall) standing on the opposite field from Kaiir. Jason Marshall Jr. needs to live up to his 5-Star billing and really execute from the corner position for the Florida Gators to have any chance to stop Alabama’s prolific passing attack.

What Must Happen for Alabama to Win

Alabama is by far the most formidable opponent on Florida’s schedule this year. It is expected for Alabama to roll the Gators (no pun intended). In fact, according to the ESPN FPI, Alabama has a 71.4% chance to win the game. Furthermore, the pregame spread sits at Alabama -14.5, meaning the oddsmakers expect Alabama to win by at least 2 touchdowns. We get it. Alabama “should” win the game. But what does an Alabama win look like?

Alabama wins if they stop the run. Easy as that. If Florida can consistently move the sticks in the run game, it will most certainly be a long night in the swamp for Alabama. This is because even in limited sample size, against 2 severely overmatched defenses, Florida sports one of the top rushing attacks in the country.

Alabama also wins if they can take advantage of a young and potentially overmatched Florida secondary, and have explosive plays in the passing game. This is why it is also critical for the secondary to play sound and tackle, but also for the defensive line to cause pressure on Bryce Young so he doesn’t have time to find the open receiver.

What Must Happen for the Florida Gators to Win

For Florida to Achieve the program defining victory, a lot will have to go in their favor.

First, Florida will have to not only win the turnover battle, but they will have to be at least +2 in terms of the turnover ratio. I like to call turnovers the great equalizer in the sport. This facet of the game actually hurt Florida against both South Florida and Florida Atlantic. Florida could have beat both teams by 40+ had they not turned over the ball. In the case of this game vs. Alabama, Florida will have to have a miraculous turnaround, and not only will Emory Jones need a perfect game in terms of not turning over the ball, but Florida will also need to make big plays on defense in terms of forcing fumbles or interceptions.

Florida will also have to make explosive plays. It will definitely help Florida’s case if Anthony Richardson can play, but even without him, there are other players across the field who are capable of taking it the distance. Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce have both looked excellent at times in terms of explosive plays. I also look for Jacob Copeland and Xzavier Henderson to step up once again and score on big-time momentum-shifting plays.

Finally, for Florida to win the game, the Swamp will have to be a difference-maker. This game looks to provide the most raucous home crowd since the 2019 Florida vs. Auburn game. The 88,000+ fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium need to really make things difficult for sideline communication and force mental mistakes on the #1 team in the country for the Gators to have a shot.

Final Analysis

I know one thing —The Swamp will be rocking!

I expect Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators to have a great plan of attack for this Crimson Tide Defense, and I look for the Gators to be able to put points on the board and keep it close through 3 quarters, with both teams exchanging leads, in a very similar fashion to the 2019 Florida vs. LSU game (grimaces at the keyboard). However, as the previous sentence would indicate, and with major uncertainty surrounding the capabilities of Florida’s secondary, along with the ambiguity encompassing Anthony Richardson’s ability to play today, I find a path to victory for the Gators rather slim.

This will once again be a tale of two halves —A first half which will be a defensive battle that has the Swamp in an absolute craze alongside explosive plays on offense, and a second-half in which via some excellent halftime adjustments by Nick Saban, and a critical turnover by Emory Jones, Alabama pulls away with the victory with a score that makes the game look much less close then it actually was.

Still, I definitely hope I’m wrong.

Projection: 37-24 Alabama

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