For the ninth time in its 25-year history, the SEC Championship Game will feature a matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators. The west’s top-ranked Tide are a perfect 12-0 on the season, while Florida (8-3) will limp into the conference showdown after dropping two of their final four games.
How Good is ‘Bama?
Alabama is an overwhelming 24-point favorite, but don’t expect Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban to pull any punches. After all, Florida may be struggling offensively, but the Gators managed to score more points in their 16-10 win against LSU than Alabama could.
This season, both ‘Bama and Florida visited LSU. While they both won, the Tide were held to their lowest scoring performance of the year—managing just 10 points against the Tigers. To put that into perspective, Alabama’s averaging 39.4 points per contest, so it isn’t improbable for Florida to compete in this title game.
In fact, Alabama’s been so good lately, that you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a scoring performance lower than the 10-0 win over LSU. The Crimson Tide lost 9-6 in overtime that year against — you guessed it, the LSU Tigers.
Gator Offensive Woes
So, besides remaining sound defensively, how can Florida keep this game within reach? Many fans have blamed the quarterback position for Florida’s offensive woes. However, in Gator head coach Jim McElwain’s first season, he claimed a dog could run his offense effectively. Despite the sarcasm, there is some truth to this statement.
Florida doesn’t need flashy quarterback play to compete with Alabama. Instead, the Gators must rely on quarterback Austin Appleby to manage the game and avoid turnovers at all costs. Besides that, Florida’s offensive gameplan must involve tailback Jordan Scarlett early and often.
The Gators average an underwhelming 24 points per game, so entering into a slugfest with Alabama is a recipe for disaster. Florida can compete if they keep the score low and bring it down to the final seconds, much like the win over LSU. In fact, the Gators earned fewer yards than LSU and they held the ball for about eight minutes less. The gritty win over the Tigers was won in the 4th quarter, as Scarlett rumbled for first downs while running out the clock. Scarlett finished the game as the only tailback to rush for over a hundred yards against LSU (108).
Only one other player has rushed for as many yards against LSU this season: Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts (114).
Speaking of Hurts, the Gators must stop the Heisman hopeful if they have any chance on Saturday. Alabama doesn’t traditionally employ dual-threat quarterbacks, but Hurts is a special player who has consistently shown why he’s leading the best team in the country.
Gators Banged Up
The Gators are banged up defensively, but veteran linebacker Jarrad Davis is returning to action against Alabama, and his status will make all the difference in this game. Florida’s elite cornerback tandem of Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson can contain Bama’s receivers, but Davis’ return will also allow the Gator defense to limit Hurts’ rushing ability.
How the Gators Can Win
Florida can stay in this game if they start fast while limiting turnovers and penalties. If the Gator offense can involve playmakers like Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway, Jordan Scarlett’s punishing rushing style could catch Alabama off guard.