While the Florida offense has been among the best in the nation this season, their defense has lagged behind a bit. 26 points per game is good for 48th in the nation, and they’re giving up nearly 400 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is a well known guy in both NFL and NCAA Football circles. The longtime DC has a reputation for being one of the more aggressive blitz play callers around. The Gators run a quasi 3-3-5 defense that is effectively a 2-4-5 nickel. (Personnel wise, it’s almost identical to Alabama’s 3rd down nickel defense). There’s a nose tackle, another interior tackle, and two defensive end/linebacker hybrids on the line of scrimmage, with a couple of middle linebackers and a standard arrangement of two safeties and three corners.
With Grantham, though, you never know who is going to be actually rushing on any given play, nor if the defensive tackles are going to stunt to the outside and the ends loop in to the middle. The Gators do get a lot of pressure on QBs, but it comes at a cost: the off-ball linebackers are often left with impossible tasks covering quick passes to the sidelines, and the entire secondary is often working a bit short-handed.
Along the defensive line, 340lb human mountain Tedarrell Slaton is probably my favorite player on their defense. The massive man stands out on every drive, pancaking offensive linemen and just generally messing up any well-laid plans by the offense. Brenton Cox is really solid edge rusher to pair with Slaton’s interior pressure, and he leads the team with 10 tackles for loss.
At linebacker, senior Ventrell Miller has a near-impossible job, covering a whole lot of open space left by the continuous blitzes. He leads the team with 80 tackles, and has 3.5 sacks of his own on blitzes. Miller has good speed, but is prone to whiffing tackles from playing catch up from a disadvantaged position so often. His running mate, Mohamoud Diabate is more prone to young player mistakes, but is an exciting athlete.
The defensive backs have been a bit of a problem for the Gators. Kaiir Elam has done a great job of locking down the right sideline, but Marco Wilson on the other side has been the subject of fan ire all season— even before the shoe-tossing fiasco last week. The safeties have not been much of difference making group either, and the entire secondary feels like they’re just barely hanging on most drives.
Basically, either the pass rush gets a sack, or the opponent drives on them.
Steve Sarkisian has done a great job all season long of tweaking the offense week-by-week to counter the gameplan of his opponent. So I’d expect Alabama to start this game with a lot of screen passes and swings to the flats to put the linebackers in a position of chasing the play the nullifying the blitz.
As they are forced to back off of blitzing quite as much and transition to stunts and loops to generate pressure with 4, that’s when Najee Harris will start gobbling up carries up the middle.
And between all of that Mac Jones has proven to be exceptional and not panicking with a blitzer in his face, and will likely complete a big pass or two while getting smacked.
On paper, this is a really good matchup for the Alabama offense. It’s exactly the kind of thing that Mac Jones has excelled against, and Najee Harris and Devonta Smith should be able to have a field day breaking tackles out in space outside the tackles.