How’s a little Heisman intrigue splashed in with the de facto college football National Championship game sound for this Saturday?
For the second year running, #1 plays #2 not in the BCS National Championship Game, but in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. It is must see TV for all college football fans – support your favorite team (or if suffering from Tebow Fatigue like most of the nation root for Alabama) and support your local eatery and get out of the house and enjoy what looks to be a battle of the Irresistible Force (Tim Tebow) against the Immovable Object (Terrance Cody).
I still think Colt McCoy gets the Heisman Trophy, but even I cannot deny that the SEC Bowl presents a great chance for either Mark Ingram (my #2) and Tim Tebow (my #4) to create many Heisman moments.
Quick tidbits of the national ranks
there are many other points where this is a matchup of Number One or Number Two
- Bama Rush D #2 (77ypga) vs. Gator Rush O #6 (236ypg)
- Bama Rush O #13 (213ypg)vs. Gator Rush D #8 (90ypga)
- Bama Scoring D #2 vs. Gator Scoring O #10
- Bama D yds/play #2 (3.87) vs. Gator O yds/play #7 (6.77)
Analysis, matchups and questions to ponder after the break.
The ability to run the football Saturday will be the key to victory. Mark Ingram has practiced all week so the Bama backs should be at full strength, but if not we have seen super-recruit Trent Richardson and Roy Upchurch fill in with quality reps. Heck, that Terry Grant guy lurks at RB4 and he was the starter in the first part of his freshman year.
Likely more telling is the absence of Florida DE Carlos Dunlap, suspended for this game after charged with DUI being found asleep at the wheel of his car at 4am during game week. Well played, Sir Dunlap, maybe the best NFL prospect and best hybrid DE in the country but not available for the biggest game of his junior season. No bother as Jermaine Cunningham on the LDE spot has more tackles for loss this year. Cunningham mans the offense strong side and his play will be of utmost importance to stopping the run and forcing Tide QB Gregg McElroy to throw.
The intriguing part of the battle when Florida has the ball stands to how Alabama will defend the option/zone-read. I expect that NG Mount Terrance Cody will man his two gaps and make RB Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey struggle with the famed Gator Dive play up the gut – but how does the Bama 3-4 flow to the edges and stop the RB-Tebow-Hernandez combo? No one on the Alabama schedule ran much option at all, very little from Kentucky nor Auburn so this is a great question. Option blocking doubles up the 3-4 playside end (or sometimes the OLB) and lets the QB make the call against the unblocked defender. Alabama has the speed and quicks to defend it, but can they mentally handle the option coupled with the underneath shuffle pass to TE Aaron Hernandez? The Tebow Child runs the option as well as anyone with power, this has to be the focus for the Tide defense.
I cannot be too clear – the team that defends the run better will win this game. Much more pressure on Bama D since they own the statistically weaker offense (see below).
- Gator Total D YPG #1 vs. Bama Total O YPG #40
- Gator Pass D #1 vs. Bama Pass O #89
- Gator BLITZOffense #6 vs. Bama BLITZIndex D #2
- Bama BLITZOffense #21 vs. Gator BLITZindex D #1
When I ran these numbers, I must admit shock that the Crimson Tide almost cracked the Top 20. Regardless of the great field position the defense affords them, QB McElroy efficiently got points off the short field (very close to top quartile in yds/play, Yds/pt and pts/gm). OC Jim McElwain forged an above average and consistent unit, although stay tuned for the Red Zone woes.
When the Gators have the ball is when the NFL-quality will be on full display, esp. in the trenches. I mention Cody for the Tide, but the Pouncey twins Mike and Maurkice blast holes in d-lines from Hawaii to Georgia. I choose Gator TE Aaron Hernandez as the gamebreaker candidate – there are few as athletically talented as him at the TE position, and OC Steve Addazio makes full use of him blocking, running and receiving. Hernandez takes shovel passes and screens, lead blocks sweeps and patrols the hook zones with great results. Gator WR Riley Cooper reintroduced himself to the big plays over the last month (and has significant size advantage over Bama corners), but Hernandez is more likely to be the steady influence on offensive production against the best secondary they have seen all season (best player, Tennessee Eric Berry. Best team defense, Bama)
Two big questions for the SEC Bowl
1) Will return specialists shine and make a difference?
With two great defenses on display, and above average offenses, this should come down to special teams. Florida trots out Brandon James to whom opponents dare not punt, and Alabama has Javier Arenas who seems to have more moves than cousin Gilbert of the Washington Wizards. Two interesting stat divergences exist on the punts – Tide rates 6th nationally in yds/return, but Gators just 78th! Both teams rate in the top 15 of kick returns, which makes sense since the kickoff hangtime is greater than the punt so both can get under the ball more easily. Also, Alabama only rates #116 out of 120 in kickoff return yards defense - James likely thinking of TD #3 against them in the big game.
2) Neither team is great in the Red Zone – who gets edge?
To me, Florida but by a narrow margin – again due to the relative weakness of the Tide offense. Expect lots of Alabama K Leigh Tiffin FG since in the 42 RZ scores this season of 49 opportunities (#35 nationally), 21 of them have been by FG – not a good efficiency ratio of 50%. You would think with the running game that Bama would be better – they aren’t and likely will not be against the Gators #12 RZ defense (allowed 17 scores in 23 chances)
The Gator kicking game weakness (revolving door of Johnathan Philips and Caleb Sturgis) hurts the Gators also, as they rank #81 in RZ coverting only 44 of 56 shots inside the 20, and 16 of those were field goals. Combine that with the Tide defense ranked #4 (14 of 20) this puts even more pressure on the Gator kickers. A game this tight cannot afford sloppy kicking.
Low scoring battle with a couple of big plays in the passing game – all the griniding will be broken by either Cooper or Alabama WR Julio Jones, but not to any great degree. If wither can make multiple big plays, the edge has to go to that team, but trying to predict that is folly given the quality of defenses. Vegas has this as a 23-18 Gator win and that sounds like a lot of points to me…
I like Florida 17-14, and then on to the BCS National Championship Game.