1. We are obviously big fans of Coach Mac around here, and he has had a great first year in Gainesville. What has he brought to the table to drive this turnaround?
Consistent offensive competence, really, and it's gone a long way. While Florida's offense fell off a cliff and then another cliff in November with Treon Harris at the helm (it was worse than it was at basically any point under Will Muschamp), Jim McElwain (and Doug Nussmeier) have generally gotten the most out of the personnel available, something that could really only be said for one of the last five Gators teams.
Receivers get open. There are sometimes holes to run through. The passing game wasn't a disaster until recently. The play-calling generally makes sense. And while all of these things seem minor, the collective effect is the sort of offense that has been good enough to bring Florida back a couple of times and has still been good enough, even in the depths of its struggles, to turn outstanding efforts by a proud defense into wins.
2. The difference in the offense after Will Grier's suspension has been noticeable and, from where we sit, pretty surprising. Did you have any idea that the drop-off would be so great, and what adjustments do you think they will make to try and find some success throwing the ball on Saturday?
I thought it would produce a substantial decline in quality, as I had Grier's performance on a throw-by-throw and play-by-play basis ahead of Harris's through three games, which didn't include his performances against either Tennessee or Mississippi. I didn't think things would get as bad as they have, and I don't think anyone thought that, really; Harris was better than he's shown over the past month in October, and better than he was in October at some points in 2014. He's regressed, and done so in ways that can't really be coached around. After every practice rep and every tweak to route concepts, Harris still has to make throws on Saturdays, and he just hasn't.
As for adjustments: I think we might finally see the read-option plays Florida fans have been begging the coaching staff to run with the fleet Harris, given that he'll have a month to recuperate from the beating Alabama defenders will surely inflict, and I would be very surprised if we don't see many more quick screens to handle the pressure that will be relentless from just the Tide's front four. Demarcus Robinson's return gives Florida its best screen weapon back, too, so some of those might actually gain yardage!
3. Kelvin Taylor is obviously very talented, but his rushing numbers have been fairly pedestrian. What would you attribute this to, and does Florida have any chance to run the ball against the vaunted Alabama front seven?
Taylor's running behind an offensive line that is just terrible at run blocking. Few of Florida's linemen have the low center of gravity and power in their legs to make runs happen, and the Gators' guards don't pull well. So Taylor is left to slip like dust through a keyhole, and while he's stunningly good at that at times, dust isn't meant to do that.
I would be stunned if Florida manages more than 100 yards against Alabama's line. The only teams that have this year deployed battering rams; Taylor isn't that, and no Gator currently on the roster is.
4. Florida's defense has been stout all season, but did wear down against two elite RBs in Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. Derrick Henry is a different style of runner. How do you think Florida matches up with the Alabama running game, and which players in the front seven should Alabama fans watch out for, both stuffing the run and getting after Jake Coker?
The closest thing to Henry that Florida has seen this year is, I think, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd, who runs upright but with a little less speed. He ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Florida, but it took him 28 carries to do so, and that's bad average of 3.64 yards per carry. Henry should top that, I think, because Florida doesn't have quite as much health and depth up front as it did against the Vols, and because I think Alabama's going to be able to throw slightly more successfully than Joshua Dobbs did.
But if Florida's got a chance in this game, it is probably reliant on Jonathan Bullard being a monster in the middle. Bullard dominates guards with power and defeats tackles with a burst he hadn't repeatedly shown prior to this season, and he might well command double-teams if he's even healthier than he was last week against Florida State. I don't like the Gators' chances of getting consistent pressure on Coker without Alex McCalister, who's been out hurt for almost all of Florida's last three games, but if CeCe Jefferson wanted to make the world sit up and take notice on Saturday, I wouldn't mind.
5. The opening line on this game was the biggest in the SEC Championship Game since the '90s. Clearly, few people give Florida much of a chance. How can they pull off the upset?
An upset would have to be based on fluky things. Florida isn't beating Alabama in a 70-play game without turnovers and good fortune on special teams. And those, from what I understand, aren't the bêtes noires for Alabama that they were in years past.
I think this game could be closer than Florida's loss to Alabama last year, and I certainly think that the Florida defense will be much better than the green version that got vivisected in Tuscaloosa. But, if I'm being honest, I really just want Florida to score in this game and keep a streak of games without a shutout that spans more than four decades alive: No rational reasoning can convince me that Florida has more than the faintest chance of springing an upset in this one.