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Alabama Football vs Florida Preview: When the Gators have the Ball

How will the high-flying Gator offense try to attack the Tide?

Florida vs Tennessee Photo by Tim Casey/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Like Alabama, the Florida Gators have yet to be held to less than 30 points this entire season, with their low coming it at 31 against Tennessee. That said, while Florida is the 12th ranked scoring team, they’re still 8 points behind the Tide in points per game.

Interestingly, this offense does not look like the typical Dan Mullen/Urban Meyer offense we have seen in the past that became the model for much of college football: the power-spread scheme heavily featuring QB runs, WR jet sweeps, and screens. The same offense that we’ve seen run by Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott.

Instead, young offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has taken Kyle Trask and turned this offense into what is almost a Mike Leach-esque Air Raid, but with much better intermediate passing. Johnson, if you don’t recognize the name, was the starting QB for Utah when the Utes beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in Nick Saban’s first good season at Alabama.

He quickly wound up with a job as the QB coach for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, then took a promotion to OC at Houston in 2016, developing his penchant for the Air Raid. He rejoined Mullen back at Florida to be the QB coach in 2017, and took over as OC this year.

The offense runs predominantly 4 and 5-wide, though one of the receivers is uber-athlete TE Kyle Pitts, and the running backs all function as receivers more often than not. Though the inside zone run is used as a constraint play, the entire offense is predicated on the passing game. Short passes to the running backs are the “run game.” Meanwhile, the offensive line is typically left to pass block without any help as 5 different receivers shoot fan out into a myriad of man-beater routes. The running backs are typically available for either a checkdown in the flats, a wheel, or a curl across the middle. A couple of receivers will almost always cross each other on some mid-length drags, and there will usually be someone running a sideline fade or corner.

Kyle Trask is the man who makes it all work. The senior QB has completed 70% of his passes for 3700 yards and a ridiculous 40 touchdowns. He’s a patient QB who’s happy to checkdown a defense to death until they start to cheat up, and then he’ll drop in a few lasers down the sidelines for huge chunk plays. Unlike the Miss State air raid that Alabama saw earlier this year, he’s not just going to keep throwing the underneath routes for 3 yards at a time over and over and over. He’ll look deep, look to the sidelines, then hit his check down.

Trask isn’t the most mobile guy around, though. He’s a non-threat on any “read options,” and is pretty easily sacked if a pass rusher can get free of the offensive line.

Wide receiver Kadarius Toney has 831 yards on 62 catches, and has added another 150 rushing yards. The do-it-all guy operates out of the slot most often, but is moved all over the place, similar to how Alabama used Jaylen Waddle. Toney is an absolutely nightmare to tackle, and pretty much no SEC defender has managed to corral him down one-on-one in the open field yet this year.

Meanwhile, TE Kyle Pitts is one of those tight ends with tremendous hands, crazy wingspan, and unfair speed and quickness for someone his size. Body out someone on a quick slant for a TD? Sure. Backshoulder fade down the sideline? Check. Whip route right off the snap? Why not? He’s averaging 18 yards per catch and has 11 touchdowns on the season.

Speedy wide receiver Jacob Copeland and 6’4” Trevon Grimes round out the main group of four, though neither are quite as integral as Pitts and Toney.

Running backs Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, and Nay’quan Wright haven’t been all that effective (compared to the passing offense) in the rushing game, but have combined for nearly 700 yards receiving between them. Pierce gets the bulk of the carries, and is extremely tough to tackle one-on-one, showcasing a nasty juke move any time he gets the chance. His vision for getting yards up the middle is a bit of a question mark, though, so the Gators often struggle in short yardage.

On one hand, Alabama’s defense quickly figured out the Mike Leach offense earlier this year, and this scheme is similar. Sit back in shallow zones, let the receivers and running backs run all the shallow crossers and checkdowns they want, then quickly gang tackle. If the defensive line can get pressure without blitzing and keep Alabama from playing too much man coverage, then the one-dimensional aspect of the Gator offense could quickly spiral into a dominant Alabama performance.

On the other hand, making those initial tackles against guys like Toney and Pierce is a whole different animal than the undermanned Mississippi State team. On top of that, while Alabama has seemed to have cleaned this up recently, they struggled mightily earlier this season with covering running backs out of the backfield and matching up with tight ends. If the linebackers aren’t ready to be sprinting out to the flats every single play to keep Florida from gashing them with checkdowns and the safeties are unable to slow down Pitts, then this could be a loooonnggg game.

Ultimately, I think the Alabama defensive front is going to wind up winning out over the Florida 5-man blocking and get enough sacks to ruin more than a couple of drives. It won’t be quite a perfect showing from the Alabama defense, but it will be enough.