Published September 28, 2011
| Sports Network
Alabama has won all four of its games thus far by 16 points or more, including victories over Penn State and Arkansas. Last weekend's 38-14 romp over the Razorbacks in the conference opener was impressive to say the least, but there is no doubt that Florida represents the toughest test to date for head coach Nick Saban and company.
"This is a challenge for our team, a great opportunity for our team to play probably one of the best teams in our league," said Saban in anticipation of Saturday's showdown. "No doubt it is one of the most difficult places to play and a program that has great tradition. This is a great opportunity, and I want our players to focus on what they need to do to play well."
Will Muschamp, the first-year head coach at Florida, has yet to taste defeat, as the team has won all four of its games by double figures. In fact, three of the four have come by 38 or more points, the lone exception being a 10-point triumph over Tennessee. Last weekend, the Gators stomped SEC foe Kentucky by a 48-10 final, their 25th consecutive win over the Wildcats.
"We just worry about Florida," Muschamp said. "Really, at the end of the day, we're going to take care of the University of Florida. We're going to be fine versus everybody we play, starting with Alabama."
Alabama owns a 22-14 series advantage over Florida, and the Tide crushed the Gators by a 31-6 final last season.
The Crimson Tide were expected to be one of the top running teams in the country this season and have not disappointed anyone through the first four games. They are averaging 230.8 ypg on the ground at a clip of 6.2 ypc and have 13 rushing touchdowns to their credit. Trent Richardson, a Heisman hopeful, has 441 yards and eight scores to his credit, while Eddie Lacy, listed as probable for this bout despite a toe injury, is averaging a staggering 8.9 yards per carry. As for the passing attack, A.J. McCarron has been solid, connecting on 66.3 percent of his attempts for 779 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Marquise Maze tops the receivers with 20 catches, more than twice as many as any of his teammates.
Richardson ran for 126 yards last week to lead Alabama to its 20th consecutive conference-opening victory. McCarron completed 15-of-20 passes against Arkansas for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
As good as the Alabama offense has been, it can certainly be argued with validity that the defense has been even better. The Crimson Tide are surrendering a mere 8.0 ppg and 184.0 total ypg. They have been tremendously stingy against the run, permitting a low 45.8 ypg and only 1.8 yards per carry. The pass defense has been tremendous as well, as opposing quarterbacks have only been able to connect on 69-of-157 throws while averaging a modest 8.0 yards per completion. Alabama star linebacker Dont'a Hightower leads his club with 25 total tackles, including 4.5 TFL.
"Those guys from Florida are arguably one of the fastest teams in the country, but hopefully we'll be able to contain those guys and keep them running east to west rather than north and south," says Hightower. "It's going to be a real good game. It's always a good game with Alabama and Florida. We're going to get ready for it and get prepare for it like every other game, and hopefully come out and play well Saturday."
The Tide held Arkansas to 226 total yards last week and came up with a pair of interceptions. They also limited the Razorbacks to 4-of-15 success on third- down conversion attempts.
That Florida speed that Hightower spoke about is truly impressive, and the duo of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are the top two burners for the Gators. Rainey leads the team in both rushing and receiving, as he has amassed 625 total offensive yards and four touchdowns. Rainey has also scored on a punt return and is a threat to block kicks as well. As for Demps, he has 320 rushing yards a four touchdowns, averaging a blistering 9.4 yards per carry. Quarterback John Brantley, who will play this weekend despite sore ribs, has completed 64 percent of his passes for 752 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions for UF, which is generating 40.2 ppg and 461.8 total ypg.
Opponents are managing only 9.0 ppg and 231.8 total ypg against Florida, which has been utterly dominant defensively. Muschamp shined as the defensive coordinator at Texas and has certainly found similar success in Gainesville. Opponents are managing a meager 56.5 rushing ypg against UF at a clip of 2.1 ypc, and the Gators are yielding just 9.1 yards per pass completion.
In the romp over Kentucky, Florida came up with four takeaways, and the offense had a banner day. The Gators gained 405 rushing yards on 46 carries by nine players, the sixth-best rushing performance in school history. Demps ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns to lead the spectacular ground attack.
"We had a good game tonight, but we've just got to leave this game here in Lexington and focus on next week," Demps said. "We're not cocky in any way, shape or form. We are just a team that is going to prepare hard each and every week and play every game like it's our last."