Alabama is a ball control team that relies heavily on their power running game and wearing down the other team. The leader of this assault is their own Heisman candidate, running back, Mark Ingram. The 5'10, 212 pound sophomore is coming off of a less than stellar performance against arch-rival Auburn in the annual "Iron Bowl". Even with the disappointing performance, Ingram is still averaging an astounding six and a half yards per carry. Ingram is a bull-dozer of a back that is a beast to take down, and gets many of his yards after contact. He's got a crazy-good motor that has torched top defenses such as South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Where this game really will hinge though for the Tide's offense is the play of their senior quarterback, Greg McElroy. The heralded "game manager" is quietly having a very nice year. He's throw for 16 touchdowns and ran for another. All while only throwing four interceptions on the year. He's coming off of a solid performance against the Tigers in which he completed 68% of his passes for 220 yards and a pair of scores. Florida's main goal will be to stop the run, so McElroy will need to step up against Florida's top ranked secondary.
Offensively for Florida, I don't think there's any debate who number one is. He's a Heisman winner and a National Champion. Only Lebron James rivals him in media attention. He wears number 15. He is, Tim Tebow. The dual-threat star from Jacksonville has been under fire all season long for what people call a "less than expected" senior season. In his down year, Tebow has accounted for 30 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He's dealt with mechanical issues, sketchy play calling, and inconsistent receiver play all season long. Against cross-state foe, Florida State, the Gator offense finally showed up. Tebow accounted for over 300 yards of total offense and 5 scores: two short passes to tight end Aaron Hernandez, a long throw to Riley Cooper, and two runs of one and 18 yards. With the defense of Alabama keying on Tebow, the Gators' three headed monster at running back is going to have to provide some support. Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody have all split time at tail back this season. Demps is the starter and home run hitter. Rainey is the scat-back with the moves. And Moody, a transfer from USC, is the fourth quarter closer. All three have a yards per carry of above six and a half yards per touch. The Gators' backs' ability to spread the field and take pressure off of Tebow will be key in how far the Gator offense can go.
Now we move onto the defenses. Alabama and Florida are number one and number two in the nation defensively. Florida number one in scoring, number two overall. Alabama is number one overall. Bama stops you from the inside out. Manning the nose guard in Nick Saban's vaunted 3-4 scheme is the Mountain himself, Terrence Cody. Cody, a 6'5, 354 pound senior, clogs the middle better than anyone in the country. Although he's not what you'd call a play-maker such as Ndamukong Suh from Nebraska, Cody is the prototypical 3-4 nose guard. He takes up a lot of space and gets great push. He'll be going against Florida's best two offensive linemen, the Pouncey Twins, all game long. Talk about a fight in the trenches. Right behind Mount Cody is the super-star middle linebacker, Rolando McClain. On the year, McClain has 94 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions. He also has a forced fumble. McClain's biggest job will be shutting down Florida's run game which is ranked ninth nationally. Enemy numero uno for McClain is Tim Tebow. Expect these two to clash more than once, and who wins these battles may win the game. On the corner for the tide is one, Javier Arenas. Arenas, along with being one of the best punt returners in the nation, may be the country's best blitzing cornerback. He's accumulated five sacks on the season. If he can come off the corner and get to Tebow a couple times, watch out! Florida may be in some trouble. When he's not blitzing, Arenas will be taking on Riley Cooper on the perimeter.
When the Bama defense isn't on the field, the audience will be witnessing another top unit. The Gators are, as previously mentioned, the number one scoring defense in the land. The heart and soul of this unit is Brandon Spikes. Spikes, a 6'4 senior from Shelby, North Carolina, has dealt with injuries and a suspension all season. In his limited playing time, Spikes has accounted for 43 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions. Spikes brought both interceptions back for touchdowns. However, if Spikes is the heart, Ryan Stamper, his linebacker teammate, is the brain. Stamper, another senior, has filled in for Spikes at middle backer this year, but he's also a starter on the outside. Stamper has 68 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions. He's a sure tackler that makes smart plays. He and Spikes will need to keep Ingram bottled up to get themselves off the field. The Gator pass defense is highlighted by their super-star defensive ends, and their future first round pick at cornerback. Coming off the edge for Florida is their tag team duo of Dunlap and Cunnigham. Cunningham, a senior who was part of the last two national title teams, has seven sacks and a forced fumble on the year. He's mostly a speed rusher with a nice spin move. Dunlap, a 6'7, 290 pound freak of a man, also has seven sacks on the season. Dunlap also is a speed rusher, but his great strength and size give him a punishing bull rush. What really makes the Florida pass defense so intimidating however, is the man who some call the best corner in college football. Junior, Joe Haden, is atop most NFL scout draft boards for his position. He's a big time play maker with 53 tackles, three sacks, and five interceptions. Haden will mostly deal with Julio Jones, and with so much attention thrown at stopping the run game, how Haden contains Jones, and how Dunlap and Cunningham attack McElroy, will be big time keys.
Keys to Victory for Alabama:
- Ball Control - It's the one way teams have competed with Florida this season. They've milked the clock. Alabama has a top running game, and this is their best bet.
- Get Julio Involved - He's had a disappointing season thus far. He's still a big time player. Florida wants to stop the run. Julio needs to take advantage.
- Stop Tebow - Throwing and running, Tebow must be stopped for Alabama to win. In last year's SEC title game, Tebow had a superb game. He fit balls into tight windows and gave Bama fits. If Bama contains him, that slows down a lot of what Florida wants to do offensively.
- Get Out Early - The Gators need to start fast. They need to come out with a bang. That first drive, they must send a message. Whether it be a three and out on defense or putting points on the board offensively, that first drive is huge.
- Make McElroy Beat You - He's not a bad player, but Alabama is a run first team that wants to wear you out. Florida has a very good secondary and if they can stop Ingram and Richardson, Haden and Jenkins can do enough to keep Florida on top.
- Brandon James Must Show Up - The nation's best return man has had his troubles this year. He's done pretty good on kick returns, but has had a horrendous year on punts. Special teams is as important as offense and defense. Field position will be huge. James needs to show up.
- Florida - 24
- Alabama - 13