I’ve been fortunate in my life to experience a packed Swamp. 88,000 Florida Gator fans all chomping together, a sea of orange and blue… and this week might just be the biggest home game the Gators have had in a good few years. It’s Alabama @ Florida. It’s SEC football, it’s going to be huge.
Time: 20:30 UK time (15:30 EST)
Are Florida Ready For Alabama This Early?
It does feel a little too soon for the Gators to want this game to arrive. Particularly considering the Quarterback situation. The Gators are yet to be tested this season, but have looked improved in certain areas. The run game being the top of the list. The Gatos in 2020 were a pass heavy team, with Kyle Trask to Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney all season long. Trask was a reliable passer, and could push his way down the field with his group of receivers. Emory Jones is a dual athlete, and it looks early on like the Gators are going to be a more run heavy team this season.
With a stacked backfield that includes an experience Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, as well as highly anticipated Demarkcus Bowman, who transferred in from Clemson after just one season. Bowman had originally chosen Clemson over Florida, after narrowing it down to the top two programs. Former five star Lorenzo Lingard is also starting to get some reps, so the Gators are not short by any means for running backs.
However as for receivers, we are waiting to see who might emerge. Jacob Copeland is looking like the number one option, and had a break out game against USF in week 2, with 5 catches for 175 yards and 2 TDs. However, outside of that, the Gators will need guys to step up, and can they get it done against an Alabama defence if the run game struggles at any point.
The defence is looking somewhat better, and if all position groups turn up on the day, the Gators could be difficult to drive on. However giving up 34 points combined to Florida Atlantic and USF is not something to be too happy about, and they’ll need to tighten up this weekend to have any chance at slowing down Alabama. The Tide held Mercer off of Bryce Young and gave him all day to survey the field last weekend, for 60 minutes. The Gators, far more talented than Mercer’s pass rush, will need to get through that line on Saturday to affect the young QB. Flushing Bryce Young out of the pocket is going to be pivotal.
Now to address the elephant in the room, Emory Jones has struggled, and made a few rough mistakes. Jones has thrown four interceptions in two games and what isn’t helping his case is the phenomenon that is Anthony Richardson. The redshirt freshman has looked electric every time he’s touched the ball so far this season, and this weekends game in the Swamp feels like it could be one of those games where a star emerges. I hate it for Emory Jones, who’s been so patient and kept his head down and worked since he’s been with the Gators, but if Richardson shows out again this weekend, and even more so if he’s the reason the Gators beat Alabama… fans will demand he plays, and plays from the beginning. Both will get snaps on Saturday, and a good game for Emory Jones will do wonders for his confidence. The Alabama defence is great up front, but struggled with communication and got caught out a couple of times against Mercer. So it’ll be interesting to see how a run heavy Gators offence approaches this one…
What about Alabama?
On the other hand, Alabama played a ranked Miami Hurricanes team in week 1, on Bryce Youngs first start, and they made it look easy. Bryce has thrown seven touchdowns between the two games, and the main thing for me, he hasn’t turned the ball over once. For a young QB to go into the season without making mistakes is impressive, and he looks comfortable. Of course, behind a very high calibre offensive line with plenty of time to look for an open receiver, things are a little easier. He was near perfect in the Mercer game, but he won’t have that much time against Florida, facing a far improved front seven. There are still a few unknowns in the Gators secondary, with the number two corner spot opposite Kaiir Elam becoming up for grabs after Jaylon Hill tore his ACL before the season. The Tide will certainly challenge that secondary, and they’ll need to be on top form to hold their own.
It’s a fast developing receiver group too, which outside of John Metchie, has been reborn from the ashes, after four first round draft selections in the last two seasons. Jameson Williams has come over from Ohio State, but it’s freshman Jojo Earle who’s impressed me so far. He looks like a guy who could really break into the starting rotation and become an early and often target for Bryce Young. He’s come into camp with a totally professional mindset and team mates are excited about him getting more reps.
Alabama has lost a bundle of experience, particularly on offence in the last year or two. They’re younger, much like the Gators. But the experience they have on the line up front is invaluable. That offensive line could be key in this game, if they can keep out the likes of Zachary Carter, Gervon Dexter & Brenton Cox of the Gators. Give Young enough time, and they could throw the ball all over the Gators young secondary.
And then defensively, how do they prepare and control Emory Jones & Anthony Richardson… the latter being a real threat. Dan Mullen will absolutely not have shown any of his cards through the first two games, and will have a whole playbook up his sleeve to throw out against Sabans’ Alabama. How much of Richardson will they face? Is the 6’4″ 240 pound QB that can run like the wind even containable? How good is he? How good is Bryce Young? We’re going to find a lot out about the future of both of these rosters this weekend in Gainesville.
This is by no means going to be an easy ride for the Tide (loved that I know you did), come Saturday they will roll into a sold out Swamp, 88,000 fans bearing down on an inexperienced QB and doing everything they can to overthrow the number one team in the nation. The question is how does this team of Alabama talent that are still finding their feet react to it?
Undrafted’s Florida Talent Watch
Gervon Dexter on the defensive line is one to keep an eye on. Can he force pressure right up the middle this week against a top offensive line full of future NFL players? Dexter is developing nicely for the Gators, and we’re waiting for a break out game. Also keep an eye on the secondary, where Gator fans are waiting for starters to really emerge. There’s a lot of young players back their trying to make thier mark. A home game against the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best possible way to put yourself on the map.
Undrafted’s Alabama Talent Watch
I’m a real fan of linebacker Christian Harris. PFF had him as one of the top linebackers preseason, and he’s starting to look like he could be a star. He’s improved as a tackler and could be key in slowing down Florida’s offence this weekend, particularly against the run.
Alabama is currently 14.5 point favourites. Which feels heavily weighted. The Gators are at home, which will be an advantage against a young offence. This game sits on Floridas offence. If they can make their mark on the game, and the dual QB threat of both Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson rotating in and out is effective, this could be a very close game. I don’t expect to see Dan Mullens Gators get blown out at home. Closer game than this betting line for me.
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