Florida vs. Alabama in The Swamp is just hours away. Here are five things to watch for, either in person or at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Can Florida win first down?
As mentioned yesterday, the Gators are uniquely prepared to throw Alabama's offense off schedule and limit what the Crimson Tide can do. The Tide will be trying to do the same to Florida, though, and if they can outsmart Charlie Weis on first down, John Brantley will be set up in a lot of passing third downs. I'd wager that very few Gators fans want that — and I think the Gators lose if Alabama can make it happen.
Florida wide receivers vs. Alabama defensive backs
I've been asked about key matchups in this game a few times this week, and I keep coming back to Florida's wide receiving corps, still in search of a star. But Deonte Thompson still has speed. Quinton Dunbar has talent. Omarius Hines is a physical marvel who could be used to create mismatches. Andre Debose may have the most explosive potential of any of the Florida wideouts. Can they combine for a couple of big plays that will force the star-studded Alabama secondary to respect the pass?
Marcus Roberson vs. Marquis Maze
Roberson's likely to be matched up on Maze because Roberson is, at this point, Florida's best cornerback, at least in Will Muschamp's eyes. And Roberson has enough skill and guile — he's great with his hands, even if he's pass interference-prone because of it — to hang with Maze, who is a crafty veteran with big-play potential. If Roberson loses that battle, it may be tough to justify loading the box; consequently, it may be difficult to gum up Alabama's running game.
Who makes more mistakes: Brantley or A.J. McCarron?
It's probably unfair to expect either of these quarterbacks to lose tonight's game for his team; both have been good so far in 2011, despite not showing any skill that has anyone thinking of Heisman campaigns. But both Brantley and McCarron are likely to face the most pressure they have seen this season in this game, with five-star recruits and experienced pass rushers dotting both defensive lines. McCarron's evaded trouble with dump-offs to blocking backs; Brantley's fed Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in the flats. It stands to reason that whichever quarterback is made to deviate from that plan more will be more likely to make a game-altering mistake.
Can Florida make something happen on special teams?
Debose and Rainey could swing momentum with returns for great field position or points. Caleb Sturgis' powerful, reliable leg could help the Gators score on possessions that peter out before the red zone. Someone like special teams demon Louchiez Purifoy could force a fumble on a return. And then there's the chance that the Gators could block a punt. This might be Florida's biggest advantage over Alabama, and the Gators would do well to leverage it.
For more on the Crimson Tide, head to Roll 'Bama Roll.