This week, the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0 SEC) take on the No.15 Florida Gators (8-3, 6-2 SEC) in the Georgia Dome with a conference title on the line, the ninth such meeting between the two with an SEC title at stake.
Florida started off its season on a hot 6-1 start, with the Gators’ only loss coming to Tennessee. At the time, that defeat in Knoxville seemed to derail Florida’s SEC East chances. But the Volunteers’ loss to South Carolina hoisted Florida back into control of the SEC East, and the Gators’ win over LSU solidified their hopes of a trip to Atlanta. Although Florida started off solid, the Gators have struggled as of late, finishing out the season with a 2-2 record with losses to Arkansas and Florida State. With a limited offense, Florida has been carried by its defense, especially the secondary, all season. The Gators rank sixth in the nation in total defense.
The script is completely flipped with undefeated Alabama, who was ranked No.1 at the beginning of the season and have yet to be toppled. The Crimson Tide has run the table this regular season, with convincing wins over USC, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn. The only game that Alabama seemed to falter in, was their 10-0 win over Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers, who are ranked 12th in the nation in total defense. Even though the Tigers shut freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts down in the passing game, he still rushed for over 100 yards and the Alabama defense held LSU to just 125 yards of offense and forced two turnovers. Hurts has fueled the dynamic offense, but the No. 1 ranked Alabama defense is what keeps the Tide rolling.
The key for Florida to win the game will be getting some type of solid production out of its offense. The Gators rank a measly 120th in the nation in total offense. Florida will need a great game from running back Jordan Scarlett, who has only rushed for 100 yards three times this season. However, the good news for Florida is that two of those three 100 yard performances have come in the last three weeks. The Gators quarterback Austin Appleby has to play similar to how he did against South Carolina, when he completed 17 of his 21 passes for over 200 yards and two touchdowns. Protecting the ball for Florida will be huge, as it will have to salvage all of the opportunities it can against a stingy Alabama defense that has only given up 12 touchdowns all year.
The key for Alabama to keep its undefeated season alive will be having a good game running the ball. Not only from Jalen Hurts, but from the Crimson Tide running backs Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Although Hurts does quite a bit of the running, Alabama’s tandem at running back has only produced seven touchdowns all season. Hurts will need help from his backs to take the pressure off the offense to throw the ball on the deadly Gator secondary. But what is most important for the Crimson Tide, is to play like they have all season, without mistakes. The Alabama defense will surely give the Florida offense all it can handle, so a mistake-free game for the Tide should seal a victory.
Alabama will struggle at first to get the ball rolling against the stout Florida defense. However, its defense will give the Tide time to readjust. The Florida offense will be unable to score on the Tide, and inevitably, the Gators’ defense will break down. Jalen Hurts will solidify himself as a Heisman candidate and the Alabama Crimson Tide will go on to win their third straight SEC Championship, 27-6.
Edited by Dalton King
Feature image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics