Initial Impressions from the Florida Game

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A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the 31-6 victory over the Gators:

  • That performance was the epitome of what this team was hoped to be all along. Dominating offense, stout in the defensive front seven, electric pass rush, some issues in the defensive backfield mixed in with relatively solid play, and solid special teams play, all mixed in with extremely high amounts of energy and intensity. Domination has been a word thrown around by some to summarize the game, but the more accurate description would involve lewd acts committed in violent and reckless fashion upon an assortment of body parts. That is how we must play to win another national championship.
  • The goal line stand keyed the route of the Gators with the offense playing at such a high level. With the 'Bama offense steamrolling, Urban Meyer and company never had another chance. It was 10-0 by the time Florida got the ball back, and after a drop by Carl Moore on 3rd and 1 it was 17-0 by the time they got the ball back again. Facing a 17-0 deficit, Dre Kirkpatrick jumped the short route and then it's 24-0. Florida threw the interception on the jump pass trailing 7-0, and after six more offensive plays it was 24-0. Game over. 
  • Color me confused as hell on the Florida heavy defensive package to stop the Alabama running game. It was one thing to advertise that before the game, but it was another to actually run it in the game itself. The UA offensive response was one of the most predictable things I've seen in ages: spread the field with three wide receivers, work in the tailback and the tight end in the passing game, and kill the heavy package with an effective short passing game. It was easy to see from a mile away that our offense was going to do that if Florida attempted to use that package, and it was just as easy to see that it would be effective. Urban Meyer is the best coach in the game outside of Nick Saban, but last night was by no means his finest hour.
  • For the second year in a row, the Alabama offensive line controlled the Florida defensive front at the point of attack. We pass blocked effectively and gave the running game room to keep the chains moving, especially considered the emphasis put on stopping the run by Florida. There wasn't total domination in the trenches, and there rarely if ever will be that given the quality of opponent, but we consistently won the battles that we needed to win.
  • Last night we saw lots of new faces in key situations. Chavis Williams returned to the starting lineup, and C.J. Mosley was in the game on almost every other snap even early in the game. Michael Williams is once again a key cog on offense. Brandon Gibson, Kevin Norwood, and Earl Alexander all rotated into the game at wide receiver even on the first drive of the game. Damion Square started at defensive end last night in place of Luther Davis. And, better yet, all of those players looked good. Impressive showing in terms of quality depth last night.
  • The defensive backfield still had some issues last night. Florida completed six passes of 17+ yards, forced a couple of key penalties by Alabama, and generally had some success when they threw the football vertically. On the whole, though, the blown assignments were limited, they forced a back-breaking turnover, and generally played at a solid level. Improvement is clearly there to be made, but the performance last night was all we need out of this group as long as the offense and the defensive front seven plays like it did. 
  • Early season injuries to both Marcell Dareus and Courtney Upshaw greatly limited them during the first month of the season, but both players looked healthy last night and were walking terrors for the Florida offense. Upshaw had a career night, and when we moved Dareus inside and aligned him over the center and the guards, he ate the interior of the Florida offensive line for dinner. Florida had no one at the point of attack that could consistently handle those two, and if we can get them to play at this level consistently moving forward, the defense is going to play at a much higher level overall. Never underestimate the impact of two players that can consistently wreak havoc at the point of attack.
  • DeQuan Menzie has not gotten the credit he deserves to date, and truth be told he is our best cornerback at this point. He brings a physical style and level of consistency that we do not get out of Kirkpatrick, and he has outplayed Milliner. It's hard to overestimate how big of a positive factor it was for us that he was able to play this season.
  • DeMarcus Milliner better stay focused and keenly aware of what is coming at him down the stretch. He has played well, all things considered, but it is relatively clear that opposing offensive coordinators view him as the weak link of the defensive backfield with the stronger-than-expected showings by Menzie and Lester, and he will be picked on down the stretch. That is not to say that he cannot perform like we need him to, but that is likely what is coming his way.
  • Dont'a Hightower moved to his old position at Will linebacker last night, and also shed the knee brace that he had been wearing on his right knee. Whether or not those two things had anything to do with it, the point remains that Hightower had his most impressive showing since the knee injury. He was physical at the point of attack and the lateral range improved noticeably. 
  • C.J. Mosley continues to amaze given his youth and inexperience. He has become the #3 inside linebacker who rotates into the game frequently, and the interception return for a touchdown was a play entirely on instinct. That was not even in his coverage zone, he just sensed the check-down was coming and jumped the route the entire way. Between Hightower, Johnson, and Mosley, the inside linebacker rotation has been solidified.
  • Do not pay much attention to the box score from this game, which shows Florida out-gaining the Tide, dominating time of possession, and Greg McElroy throwing for only 84 yards. This game was effectively over at halftime, and C.J. Mosley delivered the kill shot with 21 minutes remaining in the game. It was basically one half of a game that counted for us, so focus on the first half statistically. 
  • Bamagrad had a great point yesterday in the pre-game thread regarding the Florida mindset, specifically writing: "They don’t respect us as much as we respect them. They talk about the 2009 SECCG as if it were some kind of fluke. Our players talk about them with respect; they talk about us like we got lucky and they’re just gonna whip our ass from here on out." Bingo. Florida showed up with the energy and intensity needed, but there does seem to be the underlying feeling that they are superior to us and that them taking us to the woodshed is supposed to be the natural course of things. If Act I did not convince them, perhaps Act II will not either.
  • Second point regarding Florida, at the risk of turning this into a Tim Tebow love fest: This is a different offense without Tebow. The media can fluff Trey Burton as they wish, but he is nothing near what Tebow was, and truth be told Brantley is more suited to our run multiple offense than he is Urban Meyer's spread option. The end result is that the interior running game is non-existent, the opposing defense can ignore the dual-threat option, and with the defense able to focus solely on the outside running game and a traditional passing attack, the juggernaut is dead. Meyer is still one hell of a coach and Florida is still loaded with talent, so don't focus on the funeral too long, but I think it is clear that this offense will have to fundamentally adapt moving forward and make their living off something else. They cannot continue attempting to do what they did the past three years with highly imperfect substitutes for Tebow and get anywhere near the same end result.
  • Finally, to close, it should be noted that likely the two toughest foes have been defeated in back-to-back weeks. Now new challenges emerge. Complacency probably reaches its zenith after last night. The dreaded SEC grind now rears its ugly head, and we embark into new territory in a realm defined by opponent off weeks to heal and prepare for the Tide. Furthermore, the Gators are not dead, we will see them once again in eight weeks. If there is one thing we can say for certain about SEC football it is that it never gets easier and that will be the case for the Tide. Every team is a threat, and no matter the disparity the possibility of a loss is always distinct. The good news is that Alabama played by far its best game to date, the bad news is that with Oregon and Ohio State on the radar screen another undefeated season may be a requisite to making the trek to Glendale. If the goal is a repeat national championship, the potential is there, but unfortunately the margin for error is not. The Tide is unscathed through five weeks and looks to be hitting top gear just in time for the SEC stretch run, but the road separating us from where we want to be is still both long and treacherous and filled with potential pitfalls. Hope for the best.
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