Florida preview: SEC Championship Game could be a high-flying affair

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Florida’s Kyle Trask and Alabama’s share a commonality that goes beyond just the position they play: Neither were ever expected to be playing the position this well, at this level, for these kind of stakes.

If Jones’ ascension to the position of starting quarterback for Alabama is odd to you, go read up on Trask’s path to the job in Florida. Now, these two Clark Kents will be battling to see who comes out looking like ol’ Clark’s alter ego.

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The principal difference between Alabama and Florida this year – beyond the two losses on Florida’s resume – is what happens when each team’s quarterback is off the field, not on it. Alabama’s has been steadily improving over the course of the season, while Florida’s defense … well, let’s just say Dan Mullen had a lot of holes to plug during the cycle.

Alabama probably doesn’t need to win this game to stay in the College Playoff, but given what happened to Florida against LSU last week, Alabama doesn’t want to have to explain away an upset to a two-loss program with a conference on the line.

OFFENSE

While Dan Mullen would probably be happier with a mobile quarterback and running the spread-option attack he helped design, he’ll take what he can get, and what he has right now is the No. 1-ranked passing attack in the country. Florida ranks 8th in the country, almost in spite of a rushing attack that has dragged along to a ranking of 100th overall and lacks any kind of big-play punch. Florida’s offense is well-designed but it is very dependent on Trask’s handling of situations. Alabama’s multiple, pro- attack is a bit more nuanced, but has similar rankings in passing offense and total offense to Florida’s and is much more potent on the ground (40th).

QUARTERBACKS
Trask is Mac Jones’ main competition for the Heisman Trophy right now, mostly due to the gaudy touchdown count (40). Trask is a big guy, 6’5” and over 240 pounds, and a decent athlete even though he’s not a scrambler. Including yardage lost to sacks, he averages about 1 yard per run and has 2 rushing touchdowns on the year, so Alabama thankfully won’t have to worry about a lot going on outside the pocket. Trask has thrown just 5 interceptions against those 40 touchdowns, making him an efficiency monster much the same way is for Alabama.

Trask is slightly less efficient than Jones but it’s not by enough to matter. The backup is Emory Jones, who Alabama recruited, and like Bryce Young at Alabama, Jones is a different player, athletic and quick but not very experienced. We’ve never given a “push” rating in 25 years of doing previews and we’re not going to start now, but if there were ever two teams dead equal in regards to what each team had to offer at quarterback, this is it. Give the slight nod to Jones here due to his deep passing, and because we feel Young is a better backup than is Emory Jones. Advantage: Alabama


Florida uses Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis in a 2-to-1 rotation, but the production has been shockingly low. Davis has failed to score a touchdown all year, and Pierce has only 3. Both are good receivers out of the backfield, however, which has been a problem for Alabama’s in the past. Pierce and Davis are almost of copycat build, both around 5’10” and 215 pounds. Scatback Nay’Quan Wright also figures to get some action, but he’s been ineffective as a running back. Pierce and Davis have combined for just 718 rushing yards on the season.

Alabama’s Najee Harris has put up 1,084 yards alone, and backup Brian Robinson Jr. is within 60 yards of being Florida’s leading rusher. Harris’ 22 touchdowns on the ground is another dominating statistic. Jace McCellan may be on the verge of getting carries with the A-group, too, and he’s averaging nearly 11 yards per carry in relief work. This one just isn’t close at all. Not only does Alabama have superior numbers, it’s a function of the Crimson Tide’s backs being substantially better at the fundamentals. Advantage: Alabama

WIDE RECEIVERS
There’s no question that DeVonta Smith is the best receiver on the field. The question is whether Florida’s unit depth helps the eclipse Alabama when the comparison zooms out beyond just that of Smith versus Kadarius Toney. Alabama’s III is a powerful, physical receiver, but he has dropped more than a few catchable passes.

Alabama is still trying to find the perfect third receiver to replace Jaylen Waddle, who in a miracle of modern medicine, appears to actually be getting close to being able to play again before the season ends. Waddle is running with his teammates, but probably won’t play this week, meaning needs to step up. Miller Forristall, and Carl Tucker will split tight end duties, with Jahleel Billingsley present both to play H-back and split out wide. He’s more effective when Alabama is able to slip him out of a tight end spot than to line him up as a traditional wideout.

Florida has Toney as its primary target, but the Gators’ depth is where things really begin to shine Florida has six wideouts that can play at any time, and then there is the guy no one in Tuscaloosa wants to see: tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts didn’t play against LSU, a decision that proved terribly costly for Dan Mullen, but he should be 100 percent for Alabama after suffering an injury two weeks ago. Pitts averages 17.8 yards per catch and has scored 11 touchdowns, insane numbers for a tight end in this league.

Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland are also probably a bit better than Metchie, so while Florida might lack Smith’s once-a-decade kind of talent, the sheer number of quality is too much for Alabama to overcome, especially while still missing Waddle. Advantage: Florida

OFFENSIVE LINE
Florida’s line has done a good job with protection; the rank 24th in sacks allowed and 16th in tackles for loss allowed. But Florida simply doesn’t run the ball with sustained effectiveness. Up front, Brett Heggie will start at center with Richard Gouraige and Mississippi State graduate transfer Stewart Reese at the guards. Jean Delance and Stone Forsythe will start at tackle. Mullen has done a commendable job to build the line back to respectability from where he initially found it.

Alabama will hopefully get Evan Neal back at right tackle this week to go with at left tackle, Deonte Brown and Emil Ekiyor Jr. at the guards and Landon Dickerson at center. If Neal is out for some reason, Chris Owens did a fine job in relief of him against Arkansas and would draw the starting assignment again.

Alabama has far superior depth to Florida, and has been able to pass around the snaps more often among the backups, so Bama’s depth doesn’t just stop with Owens as a swingman. Both of these units are quality, but Alabama has more star power, especially with Dickerson at center and Leatherwood at tackle. Advantage: Alabama

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