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Alabama football at Florida Preview: When the Gators Have the Ball

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Strength meets strength as Florida tries to keep the momentum going against perhaps the nation’s best defense.

Syndication: Gainesville Sun Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC

When Alabama heads down to The Swamp on Saturday, they will be facing an offense that ranks #6 in the nation at 582 yards per game, second only to Ole Miss in the Power Five. Granted, that came against an opening slate of Florida Atlantic and a South Florida team that was gashed for 525 yards and 45 points by NC State in week one. Still, you can’t argue with production.

Starting QB Emory Jones has been rather uneven thus far, leading to all kinds of buzz for backup Anthony Richardson. The offense has seemingly moved better with Richardson in the game, though the sample size is quite small. Murf Baldwin is impressed with Richardson as you can see below.

Those are all very nice plays, and include the only three passes that Richardson threw on the day. The week before against Florida Atlantic, however, was not as kind to him through the air as he completed only three of his eight passes for 40 yards and looked rather erratic in the process. To be frank, Florida has shown zero passing game outside of the deep ball to wide open receivers who simply outran lesser opponents.

The three passes in the video went for 152 yards. The other 57 passes thrown by Florida QBs this season went for a total of 304 yards, a positively terrible 5.3 yards per attempt. Needless to say, the defense they see on Saturday will be a bit better than FAU and USF. Unless Dan Mullen has some real tricks up his sleeve, it’s tough to imagine the Gators beating Alabama with the pass. When they do throw the ball to receivers, Jacob Copeland and Rick Wells will the the most likely targets. The Tide’s starting corners should be at a matchup advantage with both of them. The Gators have two talented tight ends in Keymore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, but neither has caught a pass thus far.

Indeed, it is the running game that has carried the day for Florida early in the season, with the QBs leading the way. Richardson leads the team with a whopping 25 yards per carry average, gaining 275 yards on only 11 totes. Jones is second on the team with 155 yards on 23 carries. All told, quarterback runs have accounted for 56% of the rushing yards and 37% of the total yards. This will obviously be a point of emphasis for Alabama’s defense in game prep. By the end of the season, Florida’s offense may look an awful lot like the ones Mullen ran with Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, with Richardson carrying the ball 20-25 times a game.

This isn’t to say that there are no talented skill players on the Florida roster. RB Malik Davis leads his group with 21 carries for 126 yards, and backup Dameon Pierce has run well in limited duty. The buzz of camp was Demarckus Bowman, who transferred in from Clemson last year. Bowman is a former five-star out of Lakeland, FL and was ranked #3 at his position in the 2020 class on the 247 composite, three spots ahead of Jase McClellan. He has only seven carries on the young season, but don’t be surprised if Mullen has been hiding him a bit for this game. As mentioned above, Florida will likely have to beat the Tide on the ground and will pull out all of the stops in doing so.

The Gators have looked fine on the offensive line, but again haven’t faced a front seven that could challenge them. The vaunted Alabama front will be a huge test for a group that had to replace two starters while kicking starting 2020 guard Richard Gouraige out to left tackle. That is never an easy transition, and Gouraige will be tested with the Alabama edge rushers.

The strategy for Alabama will be simple, and familiar. Saban will be preaching two gap discipline to his defensive linemen all week in effort to trap Florida’s QBs in the pocket and force them to throw into tight coverage. This is not something that they have shown much ability to do through two games, even against lesser opposition. If the Tide can do that, limiting QB runs while taking away the wide open deep ball, it should be a successful afternoon. If not, then the offense will find itself in another shootout. Hope for the best.

Roll Tide.