Alabama-Florida Preview: Running games should keep clock moving, score low

Will Alabama look to Outside Shoulder Technique to limit Florida’s ability to attack the corners?
By Tony Carter

The (4-0) and the 3rd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide travels to Gainesville this weekend to face the also (4-0) and 12th ranked Florida Gators. This marks the first meeting as head coaches between Florida Coach Will Muschamp with his old boss, Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

This week’s game offers some unique challenges for the Tide as did last weekend’s Arkansas game. Alabama’s defense more than met the task by stymieing the Arkansas pass offense for nearly 170 yards short of their 355 yards per game through the air. (Arkansas now averages 312.2 yards per game passing.)

Defensively against Florida, look for Alabama to play outside shoulder technique to force Florida’s small and speedy running backs toward the center of the field. This puts Alabama’s outside linebackers in the flats sooner to prevent Florida from attacking the corner. This plays into Alabama’s strength with big linebackers in the middle, and forces play selection to move inside or to go vertical, which is another strength of this Alabama team with its secondary.

Florida has the SEC’s top rushing offense (259 yards per game) and UA has the conference’s top rushing defense (45 yards per game). This game Alabama will be forced to stop the explosive plays in the running game as Florida sports a daunting 36 plays of 10 yards or more on the ground.

In contrast, Alabama has yet to give up a running play of 15 or more yards. Alabama has given up only one rushing touchdown in four football games in 2011. Florida must find a way to get the defense off the field as Alabama has physically forced teams into submission as the games have progressed (see Arkansas coaches pulling starting quarterback Tyler Wilson from the game with about 10 minutes remaining).

Keys to the game: UA must limit big plays, watch for Florida to try to create matchup advantages for speedster running backs C. Rainey and J. Demps on Alabama linebackers. Florida can’t afford to become one dimensional and abandon the run. This is especially important if Alabama’s secondary continues to play the way they have all season. Watch for Alabama to play seven and eight in the box to force Florida to go vertical.

Outlook: Expect a low scoring game as both defenses appear to be proven against the run and have established running games, which should keep the clock spinning therefore lowering the number of possessions for both teams. Points will be at a premium so field goal opportunities will be taken advantage of likely by both coaching staffs. Alabama’s pounding run game will outlast Florida’s undersized front seven—and should be the storyline of the game.

Prediction: Alabama 23 Florida 16