SEC Championship: Clash of the Titans
Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL Tags:
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It's that time of year, again. The game of the year in the SEC for the second straight year between Florida and Alabama. Just like last year, the winner looks to catapult to the National Championship. Just like last year, both teams are juggernauts sure to give the fans one for the ages. Sure both teams looked pretty good, and both have shown some kinks in the armor, but who has the advantage? Let's look at each part of each team and some key match ups to see where the edge lies...
This really isn't even a contest. Let's put it this way - one has a Heisman trophy, two national champions, and has been there before while the other's primary claim to fame appears to be his winning streak since high school (28 consecutive wins, for those keeping score). Passing the ball, these two are almost identical. They both prefer to dink and dunk rather than air it out. Both are very accurate passers and don't turn it over much. The difference lies with Tebow's feet. He is just as much of a threat running the ball as he is passing which McElroy is not. That's why their triple option play is so lethal - Tebow can pitch it back or run with it. He is the X factor, and has the ability to will his team to a win if need be. Just look at last year's SEC Championship.
Haven't I seen one of those names before? Oh yeah, that whole "Tebow can run the ball" bit was the truth. He currently leads the Gators in total rushes (193), yards (796), and touchdowns (13). I still have to give this category to the Tide. Ingram has proven to be an every down back who can really churn out the yards. He's only got about 30 more carries than Tebow (221), but has nearly double the yards (1429) and almost as many touchdowns (12). Throw in a backp in Richardson who has almost the same running style and it's a plug and play situation. Just ask Auburn who shut down Ingram, but was unable to do the same with Richardson.
With Julio having a long dry spell to start the season, and no defined go to receiver to replace him, it would be easy to go with the Gators, but I'm not so sure. No one man stepped up, but Maze, Darrius Hanks, and TE Colin Peek all pitched in quite nicely, and Jones is starting to emerge from his slump. Florida, on the other hand, hasn't anyone but these two consistently as targets, but Hernandez has proven invaluable to the triple option play since last year, and there's no reason to think he can't have a few key receptions Saturday. Florida has the more proven talent at this point in the season, but I'm going to go with Alabama because of the options and Julio.
Both lines have done a wonderful job this year, providing their respective quarterbacks time to throw, and giving the running backs holes to run through. The Pouncy brothers have been critical pieces to the Gator line, and the Tide have done a remarkable job replacing 3/5 of their unit from last year, including All-American Andre Smith. For this, I give the edge to Bama. Besides, the Gators have good enough skill players to make any line look good, and they will have a tough time with Terrance Cody and Josh Chapman taking two blockers apiece most times, seeing as how they have given up 28 sacks thus far.
It doesn't get much better than seeing big bad Terrance Cody line up right in the middle. It also doesn't get scarier for opposing qb's than to have Carlos Dunlap staring you down on 3rd and long. Unfortunately, only one of those two is going to play, and it's a HUGE blow for the Gators not to have their best pass rusher on the field. Florida has other players to plug in, but none who command as big a presence. Look for Bama to exploit that side of the ball, or if the Gators stack it up, switch sides or pass over them.
The core of both defenses will be the focal point Saturday night. Brandon Spikes anchors a stout Gator unit, while Rolando McClain runs the Tide's defense. Just for that aspect, I give the edge to Alabama. McClain is the closest that anyone in the country has to having a defensive coordinator on the field. He sets up the plays, calls audibles, and knows what every person on the field is supposed to do at all times. Also remember that another key linebacker Donta Hightower for the season and there have been quite a few surprising stars, including freshman Nico Johnson.
Man, the secondary is killer on both sides of the ball. Florida has more interceptions than anyone else in the SEC (though Alabama isn't far behind at 19). Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden lead an outstanding group that could all be playing on Sundays one day soon. Alabama is just as stingy, and Javier Arenas leads a deep, veteran unit. I give this one a wash, since neither team averages more than 8.8 yards per attempt. Look for both defenses to keep the other guys contained and in front of them at all times.
Key Match Ups
1. Steve Addazio vs. Rolando McClain – One calls the offensive plays for the Gators; the other calls the defense for the Tide. Addazio will have a nice view of the field from above, but McClain will be right there in the fight. With Saban helping the junior linebacker prepare, this may very well be the only chess match that counts.
2. Greg McElroy vs. Gator Secondary – The Gators average nearly 2 picks per game, and the Bama passer has only thrown 4 all season long. A key stat in this game will be the turnover margin, and if Florida hopes to win that battle they will have to force one or two.
3. Tim Tebow vs. Mark Ingram – Both Heisman contenders hope to lead their team to the promised land of victory. Tebow has already done it and knows how, while Ingram has been waiting for this opportunity all season. Look for the winning team to have a big boost from their man.
Florida certainly has all the pieces to repeat as national champions. They have the playmaker, a deep talented defense, and a head coach who knows how to get there. Alabama certainly has those, too, but they have something more. If you ask Urban Meyer about the game last year, he speaks in generalities. Saban will tell you about individual plays. He vividly remembers each of the two touchdowns Florida scored to will the game away and how Tebow and Co. punched out the Tide as well as their ticket to the National Championship. Just as any team prepares for its bitterest rival 365 days a year, Saban and his staff have meticulously dissected every aspect of that game in anticipation for a rematch. In fact, he’s been very successful when facing teams that have beat him the previous year; going back to his LSU days, he’s 13-1 in revenge games. The one team to get his goat twice was…Florida. Don’t expect a rout, but don’t expect a Tide loss, either. When that coach gets focused, his teams tend to shine. Trust me – Saban is focused.
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