It is a rare occurrence in the Meyer Era to look at a Florida opponent and assume they will beat the Gators. Such is the case with Alabama in 2010. We know the strengths of the Tide. Instead we'll discuss their possible weaknesses and ways the Gators can pull off an upset.
Offensively, the Tide still rolls through Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram. Richardson is the triple threat who can run, catch and return. Ingram, as he showed with his 54 yard run against the Razorbacks, is just as strong as he was last season. Stopping Ingram is like trying to stop a bowling ball.
Where Arkansas was successful last week was stacking the line and preventing the Bama running game from clean holes. The Hogs were not putting the Bama line into the backfield, but they did prevent the Bama line from getting to the second level. If Bama cannot get their line into Florida's linebackers, the Gators can stop the run. In addition, creating traffic will prevent Ingram and Richardson from the running start they need. Ingram, more so than Richardson, ramps up his speed. Richardson, like Jeff Demps, is fast as soon as he plants his foot. Where Arkansas failed, or Bama succeeded, was in the second half the Tide kept pounding and softening the Hogs' run defense. UF needs to punch the Bama oline first, rather than trying to absorb the blows. Florida will be undersized like last year's meeting, which means their quickness and rotating fresh bodies can be an advantage. When Florida goes with the 5-2, they might need their biggest bodies in the middle (Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, Jaye Howard) just to create traffic. It would be a bonus if they can make tackles in the backfield. I'd like to see my New York brother Dominique Easley, as well.
In the passing game, Greg McElroy still has Julio Jones. The problem for McElroy is that he might be losing some efficiency. In the last two weeks, he has thrown three interceptions, two against the Hogs. McElroy is still 7th nationally in passing efficiency and the Tide are 28th in passing offense. As we saw last season against Alabama, McElroy could pick apart the Gators when they had to bring in linebackers and DBs to stop the run. The Gators have a good secondary, but no one has a DB that can man up on Jones. Florida needs Janoris Jenkins on Jones, with a safety up top. Florida cannot sacrifice the other side of the field and WR Marquis Maze. Jeremy Brown has played well for UF in spots, but he will need Ahmad Black to provide help. McElroy could then choose to keep everything short. I think the Gators LBs, especially Jon Bostic, can provide good zone coverage. (Bostic is an upgrade over Brandon Spikes in terms of that.) But they can't drop into zone unless it is a sure passing down. Bama will use the play action to catch the Gators' young players cheating, as well.
On defense, the Tide has a young secondary, but the schemes needed to lure Ryan Mallett into three crippling interceptions. For their first scoring drive, Mallett used the deep ball to catch the Tide out of place. That won't happen against UF because Bama will be more focused and intense with the home crowd. As we have seen with Florida in some cases, the Bama defense had problems with players covering the wrong guy or being out of position.
Bama got to Mallett in the second half by bringing the heat. The Hogs quarterback, instead of taking a sack or throwing the ball away, got wild. John Brantley is a traditional quarterback who has not tried to do too much. That means the possibility of sacks and plenty of balls thrown out of bounds. Florida is in trouble here in that Demps might not be full strength, which means Brantley loses his short outlet. We have not seen if Mike Gillislee or Emmanuel Moody can do that. Maybe this is where Trey Burton comes in, but you know Bama will scheme to shut down Burton's wildcat package. Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson have to continue their excellent play, but also be aware that Brantley will be facing a blitz on almost every down. They have to get open immediately. Florida also lacks a true blocking TE or FB, since Omarius Hines is just a big WR, Jordan Reed is inexperienced, and T.J. Pridemore couldn't block me. For Hines, maybe this is the game he becomes a black Aaron Hernandez. The former tight end excelled in plays not designed for men of his size. We've seen Hines run with the ball and he has good hands. If you believe like I do that in each game UF expands the playbook more, we will see some wrinkles we don't know about yet.
Running the ball, Florida's oline continues to be an experiment. If Xavier Nixon and Marcus Gilbert are switching, or if Nixon is out, it creates a different look. A different look might be necessary to match up with Bama DE Marcell Dareus. Through four games, the Gators have shown that it does not matter the score, down or distance, they will keep running the ball. If Demps is less than 100 percent, it is plenty of Gillislee and Moody. Might as well roll hard and let Burton get handoffs, too.
I think Florida's defense can stop the Tide, as least enough to stay within a touchdown. The problem is that I don't see the Gators offense being very successful. The Tide may lack experience, but they will out-scheme UF when the Gators have the ball. I think Bama will win, but UF can make it a game and will probably have a chance to win late.