A week ago, the SEC Championship Game looked like an exciting opportunity for the Gators and their fans. Now, after the embarrassing loss to LSU last Saturday, No. 7 Florida losing to No. 1 Alabama seems like a mere formality.
The Crimson Tide (10-0) have won their last six games by at least 26 points, including a 38-point drubbing of LSU two weeks ago. As usual, they likely have the most talented and complete roster in the country. It’s going to take a near-flawless performance for the Gators (8-2) to make this game competitive.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness, and three players to watch for from the Crimson Tide. (And yes, it took a lot of nitpicking to find three weaknesses.)
Three Positions of Strength
Alabama has one of the best defensive lines in the country this season. They’re giving up just 3.2 yards per carry, which ranks second in the SEC. Their 27 sacks are also the second-most in the league behind the Gators. They lead the conference with 67 tackles-for-loss. They are big, physical, and athletic up front, with seven of the eight players listed on their depth chart weighing at least 290 pounds. The best of the bunch is end Christian Barmore, who is tied for the conference lead with six sacks. He’s also knocked down three passes and forced a pair of fumbles. This figures to be a game where the Gators struggle to get anything going in the running game and put it all on Kyle Trask to throw for 400+ yards.
Mac Jones is in the Heisman Trophy conversation for a reason. He’s completed a conference-best 76.4 percent of his passes for 3,321 yards and 27 touchdowns with just three interceptions. His 203.9 passer rating leads the country. He’s similar to Trask in that he was a three-star recruit who wasn’t ever supposed to start at Alabama but took full advantage of an injury to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. He doesn’t have elite arm strength or athleticism, but he’s great at finding the open receiver and delivering a catchable ball. When you have the skill-position talent that the Crimson Tide have, that’s all you need.
They only go three-deep at receiver, but what a trio they have. DeVonta Smith leads the nation with 1,327 yards on 83 receptions. His 15 touchdown catches rank first in the conference and second in the country. John Metchie has become a force to be reckoned with on the other side, catching 40 passes for 720 yards (sixth in the SEC) and six touchdowns. When healthy, Jaylen Waddle is the best slot receiver and return specialist in the country. He’s averaging 19.1 yards per reception, 23.8 yards per kickoff return and 19.3 yards per punt return in his career. He’s returned two punts and one kickoff for a touchdown. He hasn’t played since late October due to a fractured ankle. However, Smith posted a video on Instagram on Monday that showed Waddle walking without his walking boot, prompting speculation that he might play against Florida. Even if he doesn’t, this is a nightmarish matchup for Florida.
Three Positions of (Relative) Weakness
Alabama has good defensive backs, but they’re not quite as elite as their front-7. They allowed Georgia’s Stetson Bennett to throw for 269 yards against them, and we all saw how Bennett fared against Florida a few weeks later. Ole Miss’ Matt Corral threw for 365 yards against them. Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond threw for 318 yards. Patrick Surtain and Josh Jobe start at cornerback. They’ve each defended eight passes, and Surtain has made a pick-six. Malachi Moore leads the team with three interceptions from his nickelback spot. Safeties Daniel Wright and Jordan Battle have combined for 101 tackles and three interceptions. Still, Alabama’s secondary has proven that they will give up some yards if you get great quarterback play.
The fact that the punter makes this list says everything you need to know about how complete Alabama’s roster is. They’ve used two different punters this year. Sam Johnson punted in the first four games and averaged 35.4 yards per punt. Charlie Scott has punted in the last six games and averaged 38.1 yards per punt. Both of them would rank last in the SEC in gross punting average if they had enough punts to qualify. Alabama’s 34.8-yard net punting average is the worst in the SEC and among the worst in the country. Of course, Alabama doesn’t punt much, so this will likely be a non-factor against the Gators.
They have a couple of decent tight ends but nobody that’s going to overly concern you. Miller Forristall has caught 17 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, while Jahleel Billingsley has added 10 catches for 192 yards and two scores. They do most of their damage as blockers in the running game. This position is the least of Florida’s concerns when the Crimson Tide have the ball.
Three Players to Watch
Linebacker Christopher Allen
Allen leads the team with 11 tackles-for-loss and is third with four sacks. A 6-foot-4, 252-pound redshirt junior, he starts at the strongside linebacker spot and combines size with the speed needed to run sideline to sideline. He’s really turned it on of late, forcing a fumble in each of their last two games and recording a sack in four of the last five games. UF’s offensive line is coming off its worst pass-protection game of the season, and Allen will make it a challenge for them to get back on track.
Running Back Najee Harris
Harris ranks seventh in the country with 1,084 rushing yards on 183 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and leads the nation with 22 touchdowns. He’s also caught 27 passes for 249 yards. He’s rushed for more than 90 yards in a game seven times this season, including a 206-yard, five-touchdown performance against Ole Miss. He’s an extremely physical runner with enough speed and agility to make defenders miss tackles in droves. Tackling has been a recurring issue for UF’s defense all season, which makes this a very scary matchup for the Gators.
Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith
He doesn’t have elite size or speed, but he’s perhaps the best deep-ball receiver in the country. He’s a precise route-runner with unbelievably good ball skills. He catches just about everything thrown his way. He didn’t see much action against Arkansas, but he crossed the 140-yard mark in six of the seven previous games. He caught 11 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns against Mississippi State. He hauled in eight passes for 231 yards and three scores against LSU. He owns the SEC’s career record for touchdown receptions with 38. Florida’s secondary has had multiple coverage busts in every game this season. This will not end well.