When Alabama’s rebuilt offense takes the field against Florida, they will be facing a defense that also lost starters at all three levels from a 2020 group that wasn’t good to begin with. Thus far, the results haven’t been great from a statistical standpoint, though much of the yardage allowed has come with the game no longer in doubt. Their 5.31 yards allowed per play checks in at only #74 in the nation after playing Florida Atlantic and South Florida, the latter of whom was shut out in week one by NC State.
The best players on this defense are CB Kamir Elam, nephew of former Florida standout Matt, and Georgia transfer OLB Brenton Cox. Based on his level of confidence, you’d think that Cox had more than four sacks last season.
Brenton Cox: 'We're ready, of course. The big question is are they ready?"— Nick de la Torre (@delatorre) September 14, 2021
Guess we will see how that works out for him.
Up front, the Gators fortified their defensive line with two grad transfers, Antonio Valentino from Penn State and Daquan Newkirk from Auburn. Both men go over 300 lbs. and will present issues for the interior of the Alabama offensive line. Valentino started in his final year in Happy Valley and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten. The third starter in DC Todd Grantham’s three-man front is redshirt senior and first year starter Zachary Carter. Carter came to school as a 250 lb. edge rusher but has bulked up to 285. Gervon Dexter, a 303 lb. sophomore, will rotate in. This unit has been formidable against the run in the early going, allowing only 2.6 yards per carry.
At linebacker, the Gators were led by their man in the middle, senior Ventrell Miller. Miller is a third year starter who led the team in tackles in 2020, but it was revealed yesterday that he has a torn bicep and will miss the game. Being that he was charged with lining everyone up and doling out assignments, this is a huge loss and something to monitor. In his stead, two players who usually rotate alongside Miller, senior Amari Burney and Auburn high school product Mohamoud Diabite, a junior, will likely share the field. We have seen in years past how critical a loss of leadership on the defense can be.
Cox starts at the “Buck” position, which is very similar to Alabama’s “Jack,” in rotation with Jeremiah Moon and former Alabama commit Khris Bogle. The trio have managed two sacks among them in the opening two games.
Florida’s secondary has been suspect in the first couple of games, though some of that can probably be blamed on a mediocre pass rush. Elam has legitimate first round potential, but there isn’t an awful lot back there. Both safeties from the 2020 team are gone, which is always a difficult situation to navigate. The Gators have allowed a shade over seven yards per pass attempt, which is flat out terrible considering the level of competition faced. Again, a decent portion of that was surrendered with the games in hand, but it still doesn’t portend well against an Alabama attack that, for all of the hand wringing following the Mercer outing, showed what it is capable of in week one vs. Miami.
While you have to like the matchup of Alabama’s pass catchers vs. the Florida secondary, life will be difficult if Alabama is unable to get the run game going on early downs. Grantham is known as a blitz-happy riverboat gambler, particularly on third and long, which creates the potential for big plays and turnovers. The Florida front is similar in size and quality to the Miami unit that the Tide saw to open the season. The running backs managed 5.7 yards per carry in that one. If they are able to match that number on Saturday, we may have some smooth sailing ahead. This would be a fine week for the offensive line to come together.