2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 5 - Alabama at Florida
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Oct. 1 Alabama 38 … at Florida 10
CFN Analysis: John Brantley was playing well before he injured his knee and ankle. Highlighted by the 65-yard bomb to Andre Debose to start the game, he completed 11-of-16 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. While the Gators would've lost had Brantley not gotten hurt, the game was over once he got knocked out; Jeff Driskel was a deer caught in the headlights. The defensive front got beaten up and battered by the best day the Bama O line came up with all season long, and the offense couldn't do anything to try to keep up the pace with Chris Rainey held to four yards on 11 carries and Jeff Demps getting just three carries for four yards. Assuming Brantley is out, it's going to take a special effort from the defense and the O line to have any shot of keeping the LSU game within in three touchdowns.
Now the Tide really looks the part of a potential national champion. The Arkansas game was strong, but beating up, battering, and bullying Florida – a good Florida team – showed just how far the team has come after a mediocre first two weeks. The defense is playing at the highest of levels ranking No. 1 in the nation in run defense and scoring defense despite playing Penn State, Arkansas, and Florida. The offense was all about the line, paving the way for a huge 181-yard day from Trent Richardson and keeping AJ McCarron upright, but the passing game didn't quite click with McCarron completing just 12-of-25 passes for 140 yards. With an interception for a score, four tackles, three tackles for loss and a brutal sack on John Brantley, this was Courtney Upshaw's national coming out game, but with three sacks, this was the coming out day for Bama's pass rush. Vanderbilt and Ole Miss might not score against the Tide over the next two weeks.
(AP) GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Alabama showed it can run and stop the run better than 12th-ranked Florida, maybe better than anyone in the country.
Trent Richardson had a career-high 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns, breaking tackles and carrying defenders along the way, and the Crimson Tide rolled the Gators 38-10 Saturday night in an early season matchup of Southeastern Conference heavyweights.
"This was very sweet because it was against Florida," said Richardson, a junior from nearby Pensacola. "I really wanted to play well in this game and help us get a win."
Richardson finished with his fourth consecutive 100-yard game, and the latest one should solidify his position as one the Heisman Trophy front-runners.
With Richardson leading the way, the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) extended its recent dominance in the series. Alabama has outscored Florida (4-1, 2-1) 101-29 in the last three meetings, all wins.
The latest one was over by halftime, a clear knockout in a game billed as Florida's speed vs. Alabama's power. It also denied new Florida coach Will Muschamp a victory against his mentor, Alabama's Nick Saban.
"Obviously, we didn't do many things well," Muschamp said. "We have to correct the issues we have because we'll see them again."
If anything, the outcome showed how far the Gators have to go to get back to championship form. It was Florida's worst home loss since falling to LSU 36-7 in 2002 -- the beginning of the Ron Zook era. Saban-coached teams dealt Florida both losses.
It could get worse, too. The Gators play at top-ranked LSU next week -- and they might be without quarterback John Brantley.
Brantley threw a perfect deep ball to Andre Debose on the game's opening play, a 65-yard touchdown pass that energized the second-largest crowd (90,888) in the history of Florida Field. It ended up being one of few highlights for the Gators.
"We showed the maturity to overcome the adversity we created for ourselves," Saban said. "I liked our resiliency. This is about as good as it gets."
Florida couldn't run, couldn't stop the run and lost Brantley to a right leg injury late in the second quarter. A senior who has started 18 consecutive games, Brantley twisted his knee and ankle on a sack just before halftime. He was helped to the locker room and did not return for the second half. Highly touted freshman Jeff Driskel replaced him.
"When we lost John, that took the wind out of our sails," said Muschamp, who said he would know more about Brantley's injury Sunday. "I haven't even talked to the doctor yet. I have no idea."
Brantley completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, most of it coming before Alabama's defense stiffened.
Courtney Upshaw intercepted Brantley's outlet pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown that changed the game in the second quarter. Upshaw later sacked Brantley and caused the injury.
Alabama was long in control by then, mostly because it stuffed Florida's vaunted running game. The Tide made Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps look ordinary.
"Just call it a punch in the mouth and regroup," Rainey said. "All we have to do is play the cards right and we'll be seeing them again (in the SEC title game)."
The Gators entered the game averaging 259 yards a game on the ground, but they finished with 15 yards, 4 from Rainey and 4 from Demps.
"We did a really good job of not letting their speed outflank us," Saban said. "Those two guys are a handful. Miss a tackle on them and they're out the door and gone."
The Tide was much more balanced.
AJ McCarron completed 12 of 25 passes for 140 yards -- just what Alabama needs with Richardson and a stout defense.
Florida and Alabama each scored on its first two possessions. The game turned, though, on Upshaw's interception. As Brantley was being hit, he tried to dump a pass to Trey Burton. It landed in Upshaw's arms. He rumbled 45 yards in the other direction, with a host of defenders making sure no one caught him from behind.
The Tide forced consecutive three-and-outs after that, then turned to Richardson to put the game away. The 224-pound junior from Pensacola took a screen pass on third-and-8 from the 30, broke a tackle and got Alabama near the goal line.
Linebacker Jon Bostic, clearly frustrated with Florida's missed tackles and failure to stop Richardson, got a personal foul penalty on the next play. He took a swing at an offensive lineman, then got an earful from Muschamp.
McCarron sneaked across the goal line to make it 24-10.
Richardson turned the 14-point game into a rout with a 36-yard scamper early in the fourth. He darted up the middle, cut right hard enough to make safety Josh Evans trip and then went untouched to the end zone.
Alabama's defense did the rest, swarming Driskel and holding the Gators to two first downs in the second half.
"We got beat by a better team," Muschamp said.
Alabama (4-0) at Florida (4-0) Oct. 1, 8:00, CBS
Here's The Deal … This is bigger than you think it is. Much, much bigger.
Florida continues to suffer in the rankings after a mediocre 2010, but everything can change with one win. With one win over Alabama, the Gators will be thrown into the national title mix, they'll have control of their BCS destiny, and the transition of power over to Will Muschamp and his all-star coaching staff will be complete.
But with one win, Alabama can prove that it's probably the best team in college football.
LSU is getting all the love and all the respect at the moment after beating Oregon, Mississippi State, and West Virginia away from home, but the win over the Ducks in Jerry World was like a home game and beating the Bulldogs and Mountaineers might not be that big a deal when all is said and done. If the Tide can beat Florida at Florida, to go along with an earlier win at Penn State and last week's thumping of Arkansas, then the résumé would be every bit as impressive as LSU's and the No. 1 votes lost to the Tigers will return. Of course, the rankings don't matter to Alabama, Florida, or any unbeaten SEC team since a blemish-free conference title winner will play for the national title no matter what. But for now, the ranking obviously ties in to coming up with a big win in a big game like this.
The earth stopped moving when these two played in two straight SEC Championships, with Tim Tebow legendary in the 2008 win and weepy in the 2009 loss, and while it's possible the two could meet in Atlanta for a third time in four years, it'll take some major work for the loser this week to win its division.
Alabama has a few layups against Vandy and Ole Miss to follow, but Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, and at Auburn to close out the regular season conference schedule is the type of run the anti-Boise State crowd likes to use when showing why there's nothing like playing in the SEC West.
Florida - compared to Georgia and South Carolina, who don't play LSU or Alabama – doesn't catch any breaks playing the Tide this week followed up by a date at LSU, a trip to Auburn, the Cocktail Party against Georgia, and later going to South Carolina before finishing up the regular season against Florida State. But it's one step at a time for the Gators, and no matter what happens against the rest of the brutal slate, beating Alabama would be a huge moment in the current landscape of the SEC.
Why Alabama Might Win: Is the Florida passing game good enough to push the phenomenal Tide secondary? The jury is still out.
It's not exactly back to the Fun ‘n' Gun days of Steve Spurrier, but there's more of a grown up passing game now with Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator. John Brantley has an offense to fit his skills, the pass protection is giving him the time to work, and no team in college football has more speed at receiver and running back. However, the timing isn't quite clicking yet and the deep throws aren't connecting as well as they should. It's still only the fifth game in under the new system, and while the Kentucky secondary has been decent, it's not like the Gators have played a defense worth worrying about.
Alabama's defense isn't designed to hit the quarterback on a regular basis, but the front seven is great at dialing up the pressure when needed and forcing misfires. Brantley won't have the time to let plays develop like he had over the first four games, and he has be ready to find his third and fourth options in a hiccup. He's smart and he's getting the offense, but his decision-making ability in the new attack will be put to the test.
Defensively, the Gators have a line full of NFL talent, but it hasn't faced anyone who can run the ball. Ranking fifth in the nation in run defense looks nice, but it might be a mirage if Alabama can come out and smack the Florida front four in the mouth. It took a few games, but the Tide ground game is starting to roll a bit and the holes are starting to get bigger. However …
Why Florida Might Win: If there's anyone who'll be dialed in to stop a running game like Alabama's, it's Will Muschamp and Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Yes, Florida's run defense hasn't been tested yet, but no, that doesn't mean it won't be up to the task.
The Gator linebackers have been tremendous so far at not being out of place and keeping the runs to a minimum. Last week, UK quarterback Morgan Newton scrambled for 31 yards. The Gators gave up a 22-yard run against UAB. Those were two of the three runs of over ten yards allowed this year, and while the Alabama offensive line is starting to jell at just the right time, the big plays aren't likely to be there against the team speed and aggressiveness of Muschamp's back seven.
The bigger problem for Alabama might be at quarterback. Brantley might not be Tom Brady yet, but Florida has the more experienced passer at home, while AJ McCarron still has to prove he can make the passing game shine if it's on him to make the offense go. The running game worked against Arkansas, and McCarron was able to take advantage of the pressure being off with an effective and efficient day. Unlike Arkansas, though, Florida has the secondary to clamp down on the Tide receivers, and it has far more of a pass rush to get to McCarron. As good as the Tide offensive line has been so far, it's been mediocre in pass protection.
What To Watch Out For: Points and field position will be at a premium, and it could all come down to a big play from the return game. Florida's Chris Rainey is having a special start to the season, running for 100 yards or more in each of the last three games, and averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and he's also a gamebreaking receiver with a thrilling touchdown against Tennessee. He's getting his shots as the team's top punt returner after splitting the job throughout last year, and he's forcing teams to do whatever is possible to kick away from him. Alabama's punt coverage team has been fine. Florida's has been great.
Alabama senior Marquis Maze hasn't made anyone forget about Julio Jones on offense, even with 20 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown, but he's been terrific on punt returns, breaking the Arkansas game open with an 83-yard play early in the third quarter. He caught five passes for 96 yards in the blowout over the Gators in the 2009 SEC Championship, and this week he'll get the ball in his hands in some way, shape, or form at least seven times. It might be up to him to be a spark if the offense isn't clicking.
What Will Happen: Expect something special. Look elsewhere if you need points to enjoy a big game; these two will come up with one of the hardest-hitting, most aggressive defensive games you'll see all year. The NFL talent on both defenses will keep pro scouts busy in the film room or months, and the offenses will be one step behind and one step slower all game long. The defenses will be even, and the two backfields will play to a statistical standstill, but Brantley will be a little better than McCarron thanks to the Gator pass rush. It'll come down to a late drive, and Brantley, who'll have problems all game long finding anything deep, will connect on a defining third down pass to get in a position for a game-winning field goal.
CFN Prediction: Florida 20 … Alabama 17
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