It turned out to be Alabama’s only close shave of the season. Alabama’s next-closest contest was its opener against Missouri, a game made closer than the score indicated when Alabama started substituting on defense ahead of its usual pace in such games.
This year’s rematch of Alabama-Florida isn’t taking place in Atlanta, but rather Gainesville, Fla., which gives the Gators an edge they didn’t have last December. On the other hand, neither team is quite what it was when they last met – and Florida may be an even paler shade of its former self.
Florida comes into the game leading the nation in rushing offense and ranked No. 2 in total offense, but that’s why we at TideFans.com don’t begin referencing statistical rankings until after the third or fourth week of the year. Florida’s schedule so far this season has been Florida Atlantic and South Florida; neither team is expected to do much in 2021, although the FAU Owls may yet post a winning record.
Alabama is coming into this game off a ho-hum performance against FCS Mercer, and the Crimson Tide’s dominating Week 1 victory over Miami doesn’t look quite so hot given the Hurricanes’ last game, a 25-23 squeaker over Appalachian State. This game won’t have the polish of last December’s contest, but it might be just as close.
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With Florida no longer in possession of the statue formally known as Kyle Trask, it’s back to what Dan Mullen likes to do best: the spread-option. Mullen always prefers his quarterbacks to be running threats, and there were times in 2020 that he had to work around Trask rather than feature him. Florida has put up big rushing numbers in both games so far, but there’s a quarterback competition/controversy afoot and Florida’s production has been top-heavy at the quarterback spots. For Alabama, it’s the same pro-style spread offense that Alabama has been running since the Lane Kiffin days, and it continues to provide the basis for a balanced attack.
If Anthony Richardson was going to be fully healthy for this game, things would be a lot more interesting than they’re already going to be. Richardson is both athletic and thick-bodied, hard to bring down and possessing an intriguing skill set. On the season, he has completed only 54.5% of his passes, but a third have gone for touchdowns and he’s averaging more than 30 yards per completion. Recall that Cam Newton was first a Florida Gator before he transferred to Auburn, and now imagine a player like that in his prime with Mullen calling the shots.
Richardson is also the team’s leading rusher – 11 carries for 275 yards (25.0 avg.) and 2 touchdowns. He’ll play in this game, but he’s going to be nursing a hamstring injury and won’t be full throttle, most likely. Even so, he’s not even Florida’s starter – Emory Jones is. Jones, a player Alabama recruited, has rushed 23 times for 155 yards (6.7 avg.) and a touchdown, which makes him Florida’s second-leading rusher behind Richardson.
Through the air, Jones is 31-of-49, a 63.3% average, which looks good until you note that he’s averaging only 5.4 yards per attempt and has thrown 4 interceptions against 2 touchdowns. Mullen has his choice of weapons, but one is misfiring and the other is slowed by injury.
Alabama will start Bryce Young; as a passer, he laps both Jones and Richardson, combining accuracy (70.8% completion numbers) with production (7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 180.1 QB rating). Florida certainly has an edge in depth; Alabama is still evaluating Paul Tyson, who has a decent arm but is not mobile, and Jalen Milroe, who has blistering speed but hasn’t been asked to throw much yet. Still, if Richardson isn’t playing at an optimal level, Young vs. Jones is a mismatch. Advantage: Alabama
Florida has an intriguing situation here; usually, when we profile teams where the quarterback is the leading rusher – to say nothing of a team that has two quarterbacks and they go 1-2 on the list – it doesn’t bode well for the running back corps. However, Florida has found a way to make everyone productive. Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright will split carries, and all three have put up respectable numbers. Pierce and Davis, for that matter, are averaging 7.8 and 6.0 yards per carry; it has been only Wright that has struggled a bit. Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman provide additional depth.
Alabama has leaned on Brian Robinson Jr. more than it has backups Jase McClellan, Trey Sanders and Roydell Williams. In a comparison of Robinson against either Pierce or Davis, Robinson would probably win out due to experience and especially his blitz pickup ability. But McClellan and Williams are both averaging below 4.0 yards per carry. McClellan has found a way to get involved in the passing game, however, but he trails Florida’s Pierce in carries. Credit Florida with turning a fairly no-name group of players into a competitive unit. Advantage: Florida
Both teams have a single bellcow receiver, John Metchie for Alabama and Jacob Copeland for Florida. Alabama’s supporting cast is in much better shape, however, with Jameson Williams and JoJo Earle, the latter a reserve player, pushing Metchie for number of receptions. For that matter, all have more than does Copeland, whose 6 catches would rank 4th on Alabama’s sheet. But Copeland has been productive nonetheless, averaging 31.7 yards per catch and scoring twice. Copeland’s backup, Xzavier Henderson, is probably the Gators’ next-best option.
Receiver production has been a bit schizophrenic, with Copeland and Henderson hitting home runs in fewer catches than a guy like Rick Wells, who has caught 6 passes but for only 56 yards. No tight end has caught a pass, a big drop-off indeed given Kyle Pitts was on this team last year. Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer split that position now. Along with Copeland and Wells, Justin Shorter or Ja’Markis Weston will start for Florida; both of them have skills but Florida hasn’t gotten them the ball enough yet.
Metchie and Williams will start for Alabama along with Slade Bolden, although Earle is pushing for that slot. Traeshon Holden appears to have pulled away from Javon Baker and Agiye Hall as Alabama’s fifth receiver. His hands haven’t been as consistent as needed, but he’s a big-bodied, fast receiver who can go vertical. Cameron Latu, Jahleel Billingsley and Kendall Randolph split most of the time at tight end last week, with Major Tennison and Robbie Ouzts providing depth. Alabama has shown a little more explosiveness and consistency so far. Advantage: Alabama
This has probably been the surprise group for Florida, which has given up only 1 sack on the year and rarely yields a tackle for loss. But again, consider the competition the Gators have played. Richard Gouraige and Jean Delance will start at the tackles, with Kingsley Eguakun at center and Ethan White and Stewart Reese at the guards.
Alabama probably doesn’t know what it really has yet. The performances against Miami, and early against Mercer, were not up to recent expectations, but the coaches have been complimentary just the same. If Alabama maintains the same lineup as it has the first two games, Chris Owens will start at right tackle with Evan Neal at left tackle. Darrian Dalcourt will be the center, with Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Javion Cohen the guards.
The question mark is whether Kendall Randolph will return to the right tackle spot he held down for most of fall camp, and if so, where will Owens wind up? Randolph is back to his tight end/tackle combo spot and Alabama has had enough success there so far that moving him might not be advised right now. Hard to say which unit will be best at the end of the year, especially given the competition both teams have played so far; we know Alabama has far superior depth, but Florida’s results so far can’t be denied. Advantage: Florida
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