First Thoughts: LSU Tigers 41 – Florida Gators 11

We had a feeling this would be a tough one for Florida to come out of alive. A true freshman quarterback starting in a hostile environment against a top-ranked LSU team. Our feeling was spot on. The Gators had trouble moving the ball and stopping anything the Tigers put out there.


Jeff Driskel didn’t get the start. The “backup” quarterback didn’t even dress. An ankle injury to Driskel left him on the sidelines, giving the ball to fellow true freshman Jacoby Brissett. Nothing against Brissett, but this wasn’t the way you wanted to start your career. Alabama’s defense was fast, but he didn’t fully experience it. He watched. LSU’s defense was too. To his credit, Brissett didn’t appear rattled, but he wasn’t able to do much either. A 65-yard touchdown pass to deep threat Andre Debose was the highlight, but that was about it. Brissett’s final line: 8-for-14 for 94 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. It was rough and at times ugly. What happens at quarterback next week against Auburn remained to be seen. If the offensive line can give that quarterback time and open holes for the running backs does too.

The run game needed to be exceptional. It was pedestrian; an improvement over last week, but pedestrian all the same. Inconsistent line play coupled with a tenacious LSU defense meant the running game would never fully get going. Jeff Demps wasn’t 100% and Chris Rainey was met time after time at the line. Mike Gillislee was a bright spot, but not enough to do too much damage.

LSU did what it needed to do which was exactly what Alabama needed to do a week earlier: establish the run and stop the run. Sure, Florida ran better against LSU, but not as well at the Tigers did. LSU totaled 238 yards on 49 carries, constantly pounding away at the Gators’ defense. We knew it could happen and we all witnessed it with our own eyes. Consistently getting four, five, and six yards ended up being the death of the Gators.

Before the season started, we all had a picture of where Florida would be after six games. 4-2 with losses to Alabama and LSU was a real possibility. Losses to those two by a combined 58 points weren’t what we expected though. It had to do with injuries, areas that need consistency and improvement, and the painful fact that the Gators aren’t among the elite. A Florida fan expects a lot, even during a transition year. Is it too much? I’ll let you decide. What we now know is that there are defined areas to work on and key players to get healthy. The first half of the season is over; six games to go.

Last 10 Things: Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers

10 final things about Florida’s matchup with LSU.


1. Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel? Tyler Murphy or Trey Burton? It’ll be one of the first two, but all four could see action. The Gators may try to run Burton out of the wildcat. They may even throw Murphy in there at one point, but it’s up to one or both of the true freshmen to step up in this one.

2. Jarrett Lee doesn’t throw interceptions anymore, which clearly means the world is much worse off than we thought. If Florida can turn Lee into his old self, things look up for the Gators. If they can’t, well, moving right along…

3. Does the run game win out again? The key to the Florida/Alabama matchup was whichever team could run and stop the run. With inexperienced quarterbacks on one side and an average one on the other, will the run game rule again?

4. If it is the run game, the Gators need everything they can get out of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Every last little bit. The big play has to be present.

5. Staying with that topic for one more thought: to get everything they can out of Rainey and Demps, the offensive line needs to get dirty from the first snap. Consistency must be there. For 60 minutes, the line has to be a unit. Yes, all 60. Whether on the field or not, the line needs to become one unit. Not five individual players, but one cohesive unit playing together to open lanes, block downfield, and keep the quarterback(s) upright.

6. The tight ends could be critical. You always hear about a great tight end is vital for an inexperienced quarterback. The TE can save the QB as an additional blocker or as a dump-off option in the passing game. The Florida tight ends need to be on their game against LSU and help the quarterbacks as much as they can.

7. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Florida benefitted from increased pressure by the defensive line against Kentucky and Tennessee. Against Alabama, it disappeared and was obviously a weakness. When facing LSU, the line needs to get to the quarterback. When Lee does drop back to throw, the line needs to force him into bad decisions. He has that DNA somewhere deep inside of him; the line needs to break it out.

8. Tackling, tackling, tackling. Trent Richardson is a great running back. The Gators made him look greater (?) by allowing him to bounce off of contact and drag defenders for additional yards. Florida’s linebackers are good, or at least they can be. They have to bring ball carriers down when they first hit them and they have to drive them backwards.

9. Angles, angles, angles. When Richardson was able to get to the secondary level of the defense, he continued to gain yards because of bad angles taken by the defensive backs. The DBs were running to where he was and not where he was going to be. Because of that he was able to double some of his gains with ease. The Florida defensive backs know how to play the run; they just have to do so.

10. As fans, we’re allowed to be nervous. I’ll admit that I’m nervous before every single game. It doesn’t matter the opponent, my nerves get to me whether it’s a little or a lot. This week, it’s a lot, but I’m allowed that feeling as a fan. The players aren’t. They can’t go into this game worried about what could happen. They have to be confident of their ability and ready for LSU from the opening kickoff.

For more on the matchup: a quick look, a Florida hero, a LSU hero, a recruiting story from the past, the full preview, and numbers, numbers, numbers.

By The Numbers: Florida Gator vs. LSU Tigers

It’s numbers time. Yay! Numbers are comforting in that they can give validity to an argument. For example, FSU fans will harp on last year’s victory over Florida. Gators’ fans will be quick to tell Noles’ fans of the six-straight Florida wins prior to that. At the same time, numbers can mean absolutely nothing. The Gators went into last week’s game with one of the nation’s most dangerous rushing attacks. It disappeared against Alabama. This week, we look at numbers again. As Florida prepares to take on LSU, numbers will dictate the outcome and some will not matter for a moment, but here they are:


Florida’s offensive yardage average is down after the loss last week, but the Gators still come in at 413.8. Included in that are rankings of no. 86 in the nation in terms of passing yards and no. 21 in rushing. LSU actually averages less yards, but to this point has relied heavily on its defense. The Tigers average 349.6 yards per game, are no. 100 in passing, and no. 48 in rushing. LSU does hold the advantage in points scored though: Tigers – 38.0, no. 18; Gators – 34.2, no. 37.

The Gators have the advantage in yards per play – 6.406 – but a lot of that has to do with what Florida did in those first four games. The Tigers are actually much farther down the list at 5.187.

Florida does hold the advantage is pass defense – the Gators are no. 27 having allowed 841 yards for an average of 168.2 – but LSU’s number is skewed. The Tigers rank in at no. 52 with 1,009 yards allowed and an average of 201.8. Why is it skewed? West Virginia’s Geno Smith put up 463 yards in a loss to LSU.

Both teams are among the nation’s best in points allowed: Florida – no. 13, 14.8; LSU – no. 9, 12.8.

John Brantley’s numbers don’t matter because he won’t play. Jeff Driskel’s line is limited: 7-for-16 (64.7%), 2 interceptions, rating of 57.1. If it’s Jacoby Brissett, he’s been watching games to this point. LSU’s Jarrett Lee is far from anyone thinking of him as an All-American, but he has thrown 7 touchdowns to only 1 interception. Jordan Jefferson could have an impact for the Tigers, but due to suspension, hasn’t attempted a pass this season.

The Gators’ running backs took a step back in terms of numbers after the loss to Bama, but still have phenomenal averages. Chris Rainey gets the bulk of the carries and averages 5.6; Jeff Demps was limited last week, but still averages 8.8; and Mike Gillislee is the third back and averages 7.4. The Tigers’ two-headed monster is made up of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. Ford leads the way with 5.3 per carry, but Ware averages 4 more carries per game. Both are bruisers, but neither has had a gain of more than 26 yards this season.

Florida utilized the wide receivers more against Alabama than they had all season, but the numbers for the season still aren’t pretty. Only one WR has scored this season – Andre Debose; the leader in terms of receptions only has 9Deonte Thompson; and Debose leads the way with a mere 154 receiving yards. LSU has less total team receptions and yards than Florida, but the Tigers use their WRs more. Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham have combined for 39 receptions, 587 yards, and 5 touchdowns.

Caleb Sturgis missed his first kick of the season against the Tide, but is 31-for-32 on all kicks. Drew Alleman is 28-for-31.

Neither team could be described as ball hawks. LSU is tied at no. 22 with 6 interceptions, while Florida is tied at no. 57 with 4.

Only two numbers win or lose a game – the points the teams put on the scoreboard – but others impact it. Something from above might be the difference or something else not mentioned here. As always, it could just come down to who wants it more.

Preview: Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers – Saturday, October 8, 2011 – 3:30pm

The lineup as it currently stands: quick look, Florida hero, LSU hero, recruiting story from the past, and now the full preview. The Gators faced their first real test against Alabama. It’s now time for test number two and it might not be pretty. As Florida fans, we’re still behind our school and our team. As realists, we aren’t so sure. LSU isn’t at or near the top of the polls by some luck of the draw. The Tigers – who I’ll admit I thought were ranked too high at the beginning of the season – are that good. Get ready for the ride.


The Facts

Opponent: LSU Tigers
When: Saturday, October 8, 2011 – 3:30pm
Where: Baton Rouge, LA
Television/Radio: CBS, GRN, Yahoo, Sirius 91, XM 91
Records: Florida: 4-1 (2-1), LSU: 5-0 (2-0)
Point Spread: LSU -13
Over/Under: 43
Betting Score That Would Calculate To: LSU 28-15
Scoring Offenses: Florida: 34.2, LSU: 38.0
Scoring Defenses: Florida: 14.8; LSU: 12.8
Our Gators’ Win Factor (See Here): TBG: 15, OEW: 20

5 Things About LSU From Wikipedia

ONLY FIVE?!? Yes.

1. The full name: Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.
2. We’ve had some very unoriginal mascot names so far this season. Mike may not be creative, but at least it’s not Tigger the Tiger or something along those lines. Side note: a live tiger mascot is one the cooler things in college football.
3. John Lombardi is the president of the Louisiana State University System. The same Lombardi that was Florida’s president from 1990 to 1999.
4. Swine Palace was the first building on the current campus. Its name fit the bill as it was originally a livestock barn. It is now Reilly Theater.
5. Yet another win for LSU…the yearbook is called Gumbo.

When The Gators Have The Ball

UPDATE: There are several whispers of Brissett possible getting the start Saturday. Driskel may have an issue with his ankle that could slow him, forcing the other true freshman to get the ball. If that’s the case, much of the same below applies with Brissett’s name inserted.

Earlier this week, I called it The Jeff Driskel Show. Since then, it has become more than that. With Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis announcing an open competition at quarterback for Florida, it became The Jeff Driskel Band featuring Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett with special guest Trey Burton. It appears to have come full circle and all sign points to Driskel getting the starting nod on Saturday against LSU (except for those ever increasing signs pointing to what I stated in the update above). However, others could and probably will take snaps. Due to that, I’ll go with The Jeff Driskel Experience until it’s no longer something any of us wish to witness; or at the very least, until Burton runs the wildcat.

The last true freshman to start at quarterback for the Gators was Chris Leak in 2003. Leak would beat no. 4 Georgia that season and LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tigers had a defensive coordinator back then that looked remarkably like Muschamp (PSST! It was Muschamp.). That LSU team wasn’t the no. 1 team in the nation like this one is, but it did manage to win all of the rest of its games and the national championship. That’s not an exact light at the end of the tunnel, but may give some of you historians out there a brief moment of hope.

Driskel will struggle on Saturday; that much is inevitable. Death Valley is as hostile as it gets in terms of game day environments. It’s never easy to win on the road in the SEC, but some places are harder than others and LSU is one of them. When you’re a true freshman forced to play due to injury, it’s not any easier. Driskel has talent and over time can develop into a true Gator great. That progression may start against the Tigers, but their all-world defense will have something to say about it. In the second half against Alabama, we saw Driskel in “let’s not try anything too crazy and instead just get out of here without losing anyone else” mode. He was given a very limited number of plays to run and rightfully so. The Crimson Tide defense wasn’t going to give him an inch (even if they did give him 31 yards on one play that made Gator fans everywhere grin just a little). Against LSU, things will open up. They have to. While establishing the run game is of the utmost importance, Florida will need to pass at some points to move the ball down the field. The run can be effective, but this isn’t an offense designed to run the ball 50 times and pass it only five. Driskel may not be asked to do much, but he will be asked to do something.

And now for that run game. I just said the run game can be effective. Let’s take that one step further: the run game HAS TO be effective. This was the Gators’ strength. Against Alabama, it quickly became a weakness. The offensive line crumbled under the pressure put forth by the Tide’s defensive line. Runs to the middle never developed and runs to the outside where quickly sniffed out. It was ugly. There’s really no better way to say that. Chris Rainey couldn’t get going and Jeff Demps was hurt early and rendered ineffective. With John Brantley watching this one and Driskel (or Brissett) taking charge for the first time, the run game needs to be the freshman’s crutch. Driskel needs to be able to rely on six, seven, and eight yards from the running backs consistently. There is, however, a problem: LSU’s defense.

Florida gets no break a week after facing one of the nation’s best. The Gators couldn’t move the ball on the ground against the Tide and with Driskel at the helm, Florida couldn’t pass either. The Tigers will be just as tenacious, just as fast, and just as rough on the quarterback. The line could be the most vital part of the Gators’ offense. They must open up lanes for the backs, but also keep Driskel from becoming too acquainted with the Death Valley turf.

When The Tigers Have The Ball

Gators’ fans have wanted to see Florida throw the ball more this season. Tigers’ fans could probably want the same thing. A top ranking and 5-0 record makes it less of an issue though. However, LSU does have a similar pass-to-rush ratio. The Tigers are led be Jarrett Lee who has attempted 108 passes through five games. Lee is not extremely accurate, doesn’t go deep a lot, and is really just an all-around average quarterback. But in seeing his most time since his 2008, his weakness seems to no longer be one. In 2008, Lee attempted 269 passes and threw 16 interceptions. He only threw two interceptions over 2009 and 2010 combined, but never attempted more than 89 passes in either season. To start 2011, Lee has thrown the ball 108 times and only done so to the other team once. In his first 269 attempts, 16 interceptions; in his next 237, three. Throw in the seven touchdowns Lee has thrown this season and you have an average, but reliable quarterback.

Lee will need to be rattled. Somewhere inside of him is an erratic quarterback. It may be deep inside of him, but it’s there somewhere. This is where the entire defense comes into play. The defensive line must find its pressure again. LSU has talent across the offensive line, but Florida has talent of its own. The pressure from the line needs to be accompanied by great linebacker and secondary play. The defense did its best to keep A.J. McCarron himself last week. They didn’t let an average quarterback look like a great one. The same needs to happen against Lee. If the LSU QB is the hero, the game will turn quickly.

Where improvement needs to be made though is in stopping the run. Alabama was able to let McCarron be his usual self because they dominated Florida in every aspect of the run game. LSU has a solid run attack too. It’s not as good as the Tide’s, but instead works in a pound-away-at-the-line sort of mode. Tackling at the line will be the key for the Gators to stop the Tigers from sustaining long drives and eating up too much of the clock.

Special Teams

There’s one thing to keep in mind: the fake field goal. Les Miles brought it out last season and he’s just crazy enough to do it again. Florida must be alert in all special teams’ situations.

Outcome

A tough environment coupled with going up against one of the nation’s best defenses will make things difficult on the Gators. Whether it’s Driskel or Brissett taking snaps, the Florida quarterbacks will be facing serious pressure all day. If one can keep his head in the game and not get too rattled – and, of course, the defense can return to form – the Gators could stay in this one. It will be a battle to even do that though. Expect LSU’s defense to give Florida everything it has. If you want a specific unit to look at in this one that could have a big impact on the outcome, it’s the Gators’ offensive line. Not to add to the pressure of an already big game, but this one is your game boys. Time to come together.

Offense: Alabama Crimson Tide 38 – Florida Gators 10

First thoughts are up. Moving on to the offense.


For a few moments, everything looked wonderful. Florida started with not only a deep attempt, but a deep completion. John Brantley hit Andre Debose in stride for a 65-yard touchdown and everything appeared to be perfect with the world for just a second. Not only was it the deep ball we’ve all been searching for, it was Brantley – the quarterback with a shaky past – to Debose – the all-world recruit with little to show for it on offense to this point. It didn’t hurt that Debose beat one of the nation’s better cornerbacks – Dre Kirkpatrick – on the play. For just a moment, the aura of the Alabama defense disappeared.

That aura stayed in the locker room a little longer as the Gators had no problem driving the field on their second drive as well. Unfortunately, it was one of those drives that needed to result in a touchdown. The Gators’ defense had held the Crimson Tide offense to a field goal at the other end of the field and Florida had done the unthinkable – drive on the Bama defense twice in two drives. The unthinkable had happened: Debose’s touchdown, Brantley to Deonte Thompson for 30 yards on third-and-six, Brantley to Thompson again for 13 yards on third-and-seven. Things were definitely falling the Gators’ way…for just a moment…

On first-and-goal from the nine, Brantley found Chris Rainey all alone, but the pass was a second late and Rainey’s momentum carried him out of bounds at the four. Had Brantley been able to make the throw just a split second earlier, Rainey would have easily walked into the end zone. On second-and-goal, Brantley made a beautiful pass to the rising hero – Debose – only to have Debose slightly lose control of the ball. Third down resulted in another incompletion and suddenly Florida was faced with a field goal.

Although the drive didn’t end as desired, the Gators were still up 10-3 and had put points on the board on their first two drives. Great, right? Well, those would be the only points Florida would manage in a game somewhat reminiscent of the 1999 SEC Championship Game. The following drives would end like this: interception, punt, punt, field goal miss, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt. Six of those seven punts were the result of three-and-outs. Part of it had to do with the injury to Brantley and the passing game disappearing; much of it had to do with the running game never showing up.

Only one week earlier, the Gators ran the ball 46 times for 405 yards. It’s been said many times, but was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt on Saturday night: Kentucky isn’t Alabama. Against the Tide, the Gators ran the ball 29 times for 15 yards. That’s an average of less than half a yard per carry. The long of the night came from backup-but-could-be-the-new-starting-quarterback Jeff Driskel. Driskel scrambled for 31 yards on a play that reminded many of Tim Tebow. That was all that reminded anyone of no. 15. It was the high point for the Florida run game all night. There’s a theme here and that theme is four yards. Rainey: 11 carries, four yards. Jeff Demps: three carries, four yards. Mike Gillislee: three carries, four yards.

On passing plays, the offensive line looked like a different unit entirely. They formed pockets around Brantley and although he was pressured, the line did their job early he was able to complete 11 passes on 16 attempts for 190 yards (until Bama’s defense woke up, that’s an entirely different story). On running plays, things were incredibly different. When Florida attempted to run up the middle, every hole was closed immediately. Going to the outside, ball carriers were met by what seemed like 50 defenders in Alabama uniforms. Even on plays when the blocking came together, the Tide defense was too quick. Other than Driskel’s scramble, Rainey had the long run of the night of only seven yards and that didn’t come until almost halfway through the fourth quarter.

The loss comes especially hard because we finally saw what the passing game can do. In the first quarter, Brantley attempted seven passes and completed five of them. His first quarter yardage total was 110 with three of his completions going to wide receivers for 103 of those yards. It looked like Charlie Weis had opened up the playbook and the passing game could be as dangerous as we all hoped. Then Bama’s defense woke up.

A “what just happened?!?” interception took the wind out of the Gators’ sails. Florida would go three-and-out twice after the turnover, allowing Alabama to extend their lead to 14 before the half. But then hope was restored and Brantley caught fire again. Four straight completions and suddenly the Gators were at the Tide 13. Then the unthinkable happened. Courtney Upshaw – who had an outstanding all-around night – sacked Brantley and the quarterback went down awkwardly on his leg. Brantley was helped off the field and the offensive surge was officially over.

Florida would only get into Alabama territory once during the second half – and that was only to the 49. Driskel was force-fed the keys to the offense against possibly the nation’s best defense. It wasn’t a night to remember for the true freshman and one he needs to forget quickly. In less than one week, the Gators travel to LSU and he may be the new starter.

A rough night for the Gators’ offense definitely, but if you had any doubts about the Tide defense, they’re now gone. Alabama looks every bit a contender on both sides of the ball, while Florida still has work to do. One team couldn’t run and the other stopped the run consistently. That was predicted to be the key to winning this game and ended up being right on the money.

Up next: the Gators’ defensive performance.

First Thoughts: Alabama Crimson Tide 38 – Florida Gators 10

There you have it: the first loss of the season in less than spectacular fashion. The run game was non-existent, the starting quarterback got hurt, and the defense struggled to stop the run. In the end, Alabama came out on top, defeating Florida 38-10.


John Brantley could be out for…well…we don’t know how long, but it doesn’t look good. He went down, was helped off of the field, and never returned. If he is out for an extended period, it’s truly a shame. For a quarterback that was hoping to turn around his fortunes, this isn’t the desired end to the story. Just when the passing game seemed to open up (yes, the Gators were throwing the ball well in the first half), Brantley went down and now could be out.

With Brantley out, there wasn’t much Florida could do on offense. The run game could never get going. Attempting to run up the middle was shut down by the Alabama defense, and when the Gators did manage to get to the outside, every Tide defender seemed to be there. The success Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps had had so far in 2011 was negated by a superior defense.

It was said many times leading up to the game that the team that could run effectively and stop the run would come out on top. That’s exactly what happened. Trent Richardson had a career night. When hit he not only fell forward, but did so for four, five, or six yards. We already knew this, but it was emphasized on Saturday night – Richardson will play on Sundays for a long time. But first, he’ll run through defenses for at least the remainder of this season.

It’s a tough loss to swallow because early it looked like the Gators were in it. From the opening touchdown to holding Bama to a field goal on their first drive, it appeared that Florida might be able to hang on. But the better team would prevail. Alabama looked every bit a national-title contender. Their pass game continued to be average, but their run game pounded away from start to finish. And that defense. Dominant is a good word. It fits. Speed is another. They knew where Florida was most explosive – again, the run – and shut it down.

Unfortunately there’s no time for the Gators to even take a breath. In just one week, Florida travels to LSU. The SEC is never easy, but after the defeat and the possible loss of the one experienced quarterback on the roster, it may have become that much tougher.

If you can stomach it, come back tomorrow when we’ll cover the Gators’ first loss in more depth.

Last 10 Things: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

10 final things about Florida’s matchup with Alabama.


1. A quarterback will have to make a play. Whether it is John Brantley or A.J. McCarron, one of the two QBs will have to make an important play in this one. The run games of both teams will be the focus, but won’t do it all. One of these average passers will need to use their arm to make an important throw at a critical moment.

2. How many rushing yards will these teams total? 400? 500? 600 or more?!? The Gators and Tide can both run. Their starters are good and their backups actually average more yards per carry. Both teams will try to establish the run early. Speed may be the difference. Not only running speed, but defensive speed.

3. This could be the week a Gators’ wide receiver finally steps up. To be fair, the WRs haven’t been thrown to as much as we expected when Charlie Weis was announced as the Florida offensive coordinator. To be fairer, he hasn’t needed to use them extensively yet. They need to be thrown to, but they need to take a leap forward as well.

4. Offensive line consistency could be the most important part of the Gators’ offense. Two flawless plays followed up by a breakdown on the third can’t continue. It’s okay against lesser opponents, it won’t be against Alabama.

5. The Tide defense is that good. But the Gators’ defense has shown it can handle a lot as well (albeit against lesser opponents). This game could come down to which defense can slow which running game. The edge would seem to go to Bama in this one, but Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have unmatched speed. Of course, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are off to a hot start as well. Both defenses will be focused on stopping the run. The one that does so the most effectively may come out on top.

6. Florida’s front four has to provide pressure on its own. Will Muschamp will surely dial up some creative blitzes throughout the game, but to respect the Bama run game, the front four will need to do a lot on its own in terms of pressuring McCarron and getting into the backfield to disrupt the run game.

7. Sure tackling, sure tackling, sure tackling. Richardson and Lacy can be homerun threats, but also like to make would-be tacklers look plain silly. The Gators need to take them down at the first contact. If the Bama backs are able to consistently break tackles and get extra yards, it will be a very long night for Florida.

8. McCarron is a near clone of Brantley in terms of numbers and how he’s been used so far this season. The young Florida secondary can’t make him look like an All-American. They can’t even make him look like an All-SEC quarterback. The defensive backs need to remain tight in coverage and cause turnovers. The Bama run game is as explosive as the Florida run game, but the Tide won’t run on every play.

9. A legendary coach facing off against a newbie. Muschamp coached under Nick Saban, but that’s doesn’t matter now. All you’ll hear is Saban’s head coaching resume compared to Muschamp’s. This will be Muschamp’s fifth game as a head coach. Okay, we understand that. Let’s see how it plays out before we give it to the guy with more experience.

10. There’s something special about The Swamp. In 2010, the Gators won their first three at home before going 1-3 in their final four. Florida has started the 2011 the same way with three home wins. It’s time to bring that aura back and continue a new streak.

By The Numbers: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Yes, I’m giving you the rundown again. Quick look. An Alabama hero. A Florida hero. A past recruiting moment. The full preview. Now on to By the Numbers. I’m not sure if this will become a regular piece (after all, how many really are?), but the Gators and Crimson Tide has a surprising amount of similarities in the numbers department, so for at this one week, you get this column.


On paper doesn’t mean much. It may actually not mean anything. On paper are the numbers we look at before and after a game. We can immediately point to one statistic and declare that’s why one team beat the other when in reality it may have been one play shifting momentum or one mistake dooming a team. On paper is fun to look at and mull over though, especially when in that respect two teams look so evenly matched.

Many would tell you Alabama has the heavy advantage over Florida in Saturday’s matchup. They may be right, but we really won’t know that until the game is played. What we do know is that by the numbers these two teams are more similar than you’d think. Here’s a rundown:

The Gators average 461.8 offensive yards per game. The Tide average 456.1. Florida scores at a slightly higher clip – 40.3 – but Alabama isn’t far behind at 38.5. The teams are back-to-back at 13th and 14th in the nation in yards per play. The Tide average 6.883 and the Gators average 6.815.

Bama is 2nd in the nation in total defense while Florida comes in at 5th. The two also hold those same spots in terms of rushing yards allowed. When it comes to points, the Tide allow the nation’s 2nd best total at 8.0 per game, while the Gators rank 4th at 9.0. Each has grabbed 4 interceptions.

Many will be quick to criticize Florida quarterback John Brantley. On the season, he’s 55-for-86 (64.0%) for 752 yards (8.74 per attempt) with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions to land at a rating of 148.1. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron’s numbers: 63-for-95 (66.3%), 779 yards (8.20 per attempt), 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 144.9 rating. Well then.

Although not exactly a similarity you want to point out, the backups – Jeff Driskel and Phillip Sims – also have something in common: 2 interceptions thrown a piece.

Trent Richardson is the Heisman candidate and his 8 touchdowns help that campaign along. He has 441 rushing yards and is averaging 6.6 per carry. Chris Rainey only has 2 scores on the ground this season, but has 411 yards and 6.5 per carry. While Richardson’s individual rushing touchdowns are higher, Bama is only one up on Florida as a team – 13-12.

And then there are the “backups.” Jeff Demps and Mike Gillislee have combined to carry the ball 56 times for 502 yards (an amazing 9.0 per carry) and 6 touchdowns. Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler have totaled 52 carries for 465 yards (only 8.9 per carry) and 5 scores.

Caleb Sturgis is more accurate than Jeremy Shelley in terms of field goals, but the two kickers are right on target with each other on extra points – 18-19.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jon Bostic leads the Gators with 26 tackles. Dont’a Hightower leads the Tide with 25. The solo tackle lead goes to Bostic over Mark Barron 19-16. Bostic also leads Florida with 4.0 tackles for loss. Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are tied for the Bama lead 4.5.

Sacks haven’t been a strong part of either team’s play so far this season, but with leaders totaling 2.0 (Florida’s Bostic again and Ronald Powell) and 1.5 (Alabama’s Nick Gentry) there’s yet another similarity.

And finally, the Gators have hit opposing quarterbacks 14 times. The Tide have done so 15 times.

As I said above, on paper doesn’t win you games, but it does give you something to look at and mull over leading up to matchups. On paper, Florida looks more evenly matched than many of the “experts” would have you think. On paper may be a Gator fan’s best friend this week. It may not determine the outcome, but more than one of these numbers will have some impact on it.

Preview: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide – Saturday, October 1, 2011 – 8:00pm

There was the quick look. There were heroes from both Florida and Alabama. There was a recruiting story from the past. Now on to the full preview.

Learn about the opponent – the team and the school – and what the Gators need to do to win. This week, Florida will need to do a lot more than they have over the first four games of the season. The rush offense has been amazingly explosive and the defense has done its job. Both will have to be even better against the Crimson Tide. Kentucky isn’t on this level. Tennessee? Not either. This is the first true test.


The Facts

Opponent: Alabama Crimson Tide
When: Saturday, October 1, 2011 – 8:00pm
Where: Gainesville, FL
Television/Radio: CBS, GRN/GatorZone, Sirius 220, XM 199
Records: Florida: 4-0 (2-0), Alabama: 4-0 (1-0)
Point Spread: Alabama -3.5
Over/Under: 45
Betting Score That Would Calculate To: Alabama 24-21 or 25-20
Scoring Offenses: Florida: 40.3, Alabama: 38.5
Scoring Defenses: Florida: 9.0; Alabama: 8.0
Our Gators’ Win Factor (See Here): TBG: 35, OEW: 30

10 Things About Alabama From Wikipedia

Oh great Wikipedia, tell us what you know. (For football, keep scrolling.)

1. In Alabama’s early days students were prohibited from drinking, swearing, making unauthorized visits off-campus, or playing musical instruments outside of a one-hour time frame. Despite that, gunfights were not uncommon. No, really.
2. In 1860, the university was approved to become a military school. It would have a military structure until approximately a decade after it began to enroll women in 1892.
3. Some guy named Bear Bryant coached football at Alabama.
4. Some guy named Forest Gump did not actually play there.
5. The law school is the oldest at Alabama’s academic divisions as it was established in 1892. The honors college, created in 2003, is the newest.
6. Numbers of Alabama graduates have been named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team. That’s actually what is says – “numbers.”
7. This is word-for-word from Wikipedia: “Since its founding in 1914, a secretive coalition of fraternities and sororities, commonly known as ‘The Machine’, has wielded enormous influence over the Student Government Association. Occurrences of harassment, intimidation, and even criminal activities aimed at opposition candidates have been reported. Many figures in local, state, and national politics have come out of the SGA at the University of Alabama. (Esquire magazine devoted its April 1992 cover story to an exposé of the Machine.)”
8. The student newspaper is called The Crimson White, but is commonly referred to as The CW. No word on whether or not it has a pro or con Gossip Girl stance.
9. Despite the Tide’s great success on the football field over the years, Mark Ingram became Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009.
10. Notable alumni: Dabo Swinney, Danny Ford, Charley Pell, Hootie Ingram, Frank Howard – all were (or are in Swinney’s case) head coaches at Clemson.

When The Gators Have The Ball

Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps will be the focus, there’s no denying that, but against the Alabama defense, so much more needs to go right.

John Brantley hasn’t had a bad season, but he hasn’t had a particularly good one either. His numbers are modest and probably will remain so as he continues to develop into a game manager. He does appear more confident than he was in 2010, but we have yet to see him have to win a game with his arm. That may not be a focus of Charlie Weis, but depending on the circumstances, it could be something that has to happen sooner rather than later. The wide receivers and tight ends are barely getting the ball, but that is because they’re rarely getting looks. Fans are quick to jump on Brantley for this issue, but how many times is he being asked to throw their way? The answer is not many. Against the Tide, Brantley may need to throw. It’s no longer a luxury that can be worked into the game plan, but isn’t needed. Alabama will focus on Rainey and Demps as much as Weis will try to use them throughout the game. If the Tide can manage to slow the dynamic duo, it could be a long night for Brantley. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we don’t know what kind of thing it is yet.

When you have two running backs with the talent and speed Rainey and Demps have, you aren’t worried about many defenses. When you add Mike Gillislee and Trey Burton to the mix, your stable is full. Weis will do his best to get the speedsters out in space and pound Burton in short-yardage situations. The running game has been spectacular so far, but hasn’t faced a top-notch defense. Alabama possesses that defense. That said, who is faster than either Rainey or Demps? If one gets a hole or to the outside, look out. You may have one of the more talented defenses in the country and you may execute to near perfection, but sometimes speed wins out. We all saw what Demps did to Kentucky. Alabama isn’t Kentucky, but no one can match Demps in a foot race.

Of course for the running backs to be successful, the offensive line must find consistency. The Tide will bring everything they have at the line. From blitzes to changing looks, the defense will test the line all night. It’s up to the line to come together as a unit for not just two or three plays in a row, but for the entire 60 minutes.

When The Crimson Tide Have The Ball

You would think the Gators have a slight advantage in some areas because Will Muschamp coached under Nick Saban. You could flip that on its head and say Saban may have an advantage because he knows Muschamp. The last time the two coached together was 2005, let’s move on from this.

The same that was said in the above section could almost be repeated here with just a few name changes. Alabama possesses a dynamic running back duo and a quarterback that has been average. A.J. McCarron won’t be needed to win the Tide many games. His main goal may just be to not lose them. This will be covered in another piece, but his numbers are surprisingly similar to Brantley’s. McCarron isn’t a world-beater, but doesn’t have to be. He can rest on the running game and just not make bad decisions. This is why the Gators’ defensive line is so important.

Since Sharrif Floyd returned to the lineup, the line play has improved dramatically. Against UAB, there was virtually no push from the front four. The line was rarely getting to the quarterback. With the unit fully assembled (although word is Dominique Easley may be dinged up), pressure has returned and the line is forcing opposing quarterbacks to think fast. Against a QB like McCarron, it’s critical that continue.

Now on the other amazing similarity: the running backs. Trent Richardson is being discussed as a Heisman candidate. Rainey is not. Explain that one to me. Richardson is good. Actually, Richardson is great. He’s a power back with an explosion and second gear that’s hard to match. And oh yeah, his backup averages 2.3 yards per carry MORE than he does. The Florida defense can’t breathe a sigh of relief when Richardson goes to the sideline; Eddie Lacy is just as dangerous. Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins must carry their tackling clinic of the last two games over to this one. Richardson and Lacy thrive on bouncing off of would-be tacklers. It’s the goal of the defense to take them down on the first hit. Missed tackles will result in big problems for the Gators.

Lastly on the defensive side of the ball, the defensive backs have to grow up over night. The DBs haven’t been awful, but like the offensive line, they’ve lacked consistency. Against a quarterback like McCarron, they have to play smart. As mentioned, McCarron isn’t an All-American; the Gators can’t make him look like one. Tight coverage and forcing turnovers will be a vital aspect to Saturday’s game.

Special Teams

This will be kept short…

Dear Gators,

Do NOT punt to Marquis Maze.

Thank you.

The Bull Gator

Outcome

According to the spread and the over/under, this game could end up somewhere around 24-21. I could definitely see that. Many think the Tide could come into The Swamp and run right over a program in transition, but these teams are incredibly similar. From talent in certain areas to the numbers they put up, Alabama and Florida aren’t exact copies, but their similarities make a close game possible. To keep it so, Florida has to execute. This is the best team they’ve faced and there’s another one right behind it. The focus must be on 60 minutes and 60 minutes only. Not next week, not next month. The Gators can stay in this one and they can win it, but they have to do everything they do well even better.

Quick Look: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The full preview will come later this week, but for now a quick look at this week’s game.


There’s already talk about what could happen if Florida were to not only beat Alabama this week, but also LSU the following week. Talk about where such a run would put the Gators in the polls. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, but it’s definitely in the back of many minds. Hopefully it’s not in the minds of the Florida players and they are focused on one thing and one thing only right now – the Crimson Tide.

When the schedule was first announced, we knew this would be the first big test for the Gators. Sure Tennessee is a rival typically of epic proportions, but with the Vols struggling recently, it was the Tide that presented the first “big” game of the season. The fact that Alabama currently sits at no. 3 and no. 2 in the polls hasn’t lessened the importance of this matchup.

Want more? Sure you do. Last season, the Tide finished no. 10 and no. 11. In 2009, they went 14-0 and won the national championship. And in 2008, they finished no. 6 in both polls. Since Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa, Bama is 47-11 and 2-1 against the Gators. Last year’s 31-6 loss to the Tide was the first of three-straight losses for Florida and the year before, Alabama ran over the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. I didn’t need to remind you of any of that, but I did anyway. What you really need to know though is that Florida isn’t all that far off from competing with Bama as some would have you think.

Alabama is currently favored by between three and four points. If you subscribe to the theory that home teams in the college game already have a six- or seven-point advantage, then that’s a 10-point swing for the Tide at the moment. I’m fine with that and can understand why it’s so, but I also believe the Gators have a shot. These teams are surprisingly similar in terms of offensive production, so it might come down to the defenses. And that’s exactly where everyone thinks Bama holds to advantage.

The Tide defense has more talent than the Gators have seen and will do their best to shut down the run game and rattle John Brantley. We’ve talked about Brantley not having to be a hero, about him just having to manage games and not make mistakes, but it holds true more so in this game than any until this point. The run game will be featured, because regardless of how good the Tide defense is, no one is as fast as Jeff Demps and you’d be hard-pressed to find many capable of keeping up with Chris Rainey’s agility. Bama will attempt to slow down anything the Gators throw at them and that’s why Brantley playing smart is so important. He has to know that he doesn’t have to do it alone. Brantley needs to keep his head straight and make smart throws and not give the ball to the Tide. Be a game manager and not beat himself.

This game is the start of the rest of the season and the outcome could indicate where the Gators go. Come away with a win and confidence will be sky-high facing LSU. Let Alabama do what many outsiders might think they can and the season suddenly looks like it has a dark cloud heading its way. Every indication is that this will be a great one. Let’s hope it lives up to what we’ve made it in our minds.