Alabama-Florida: Game Analysis and Prediction

Tim PollockSenior Writer IDecember 4, 2008

To begin, please read Eric Brown’s excellent article titled B/R Vs. ESPN: Handicapping the Hidden Battle In Atlanta.  It segues nicely into why you should be reading this in the first place—and it directs you to a very good website about college football picks.  

Or just be a rebel and continue reading.  Either way…

So I keep reading and hearing that this year’s SEC Championship Game is “Florida’s Flash” vs. “Alabama’s Grit.”

And I just don’t understand it. 

Yes, Florida has flashy and lightning-fast players, and yes, Alabama has top-notch, gritty lineman in the trenches.

But these teams didn’t get to the SEC title game without great players all over the field.

Isn’t Tim Tebow the toughest quarterback in the nation—the “one-man wrecking ball,” as some have called him?  Isn’t Julio Jones one of the best and most athletic wide receivers in college football?  Are the Pouncey twins finesse players?  Is Javier Arenas not one of the most electrifying return men in the nation? 

But I digress…

One of the benefits of having the greatest wife in the world is that she allows me to watch football every weekend.  The one game of the day I really want to watch quickly turns into two, three, and four—and nearly all of these games are SEC games.   

That said, before I go on, let me preface this by saying that I think Florida wins hands down this weekend.  Whether it’s close for a while or not really doesn’t matter.  I think Florida will continue its dominance and pull away for a convincing victory.   

So Bama fans, either continue reading while foaming at the mouth—or stop reading now and save yourself a panic attack.  Or just skim over it and leave the obligatory “Roll Tide!” comment.

Moving on:  There is this myth that in rivalry games or games with much on the line that you should “throw the stats out the window.”  Call me crazy, but that’s usually what the underdogs say.

Like FSU, for example.  They wanted to chuck those stats right out the window.  And Georgia, too; set the stats aside, the experts said.  This will be a war! 

Blah blah blah. 

While I agree that some stats can be misleading and meaningless altogether, in this case, for this particular game—Florida appears to have a major advantage in several areas, but for time’s sake, I will only address one in this analysis. 

Florida will win this game for one reason only: field position. 

Let us begin with kickoffs. 

Alabama struggles with both kickoffs and kickoff returns.  For starters, despite having Javier Arenas, Alabama is dead last in the SEC in kick return average.

Florida’s kickoff coverage is a bit unusual in that they try to pin their opponents into the corner, sometimes leading to the kickoff going out of bounds.  Other times it leads to a very one-dimensional return, as it limits the options for the return team.

Florida’s kickoff man, usually Caleb Sturgis, can also put it in the endzone, as he has 11 times this season. 

Hypothetically, let’s say Florida wins the coin toss and defers to the second half.  Because teams are typically jacked up to start games, quarterbacks often let balls get away from them early in games. 

That, coupled with Alabama’s success running the ball, leads me to believe that the Tide will try to avoid making a costly mistake early in the game by keeping it safe on the ground behind their talented offensive line.  They have seen Florida create too many early turnovers and grab big leads. 

The problem is that Florida knows this.

Florida’s defense has brutally attacked running backs early in games.  Brandon Spikes’ monster hit on Knowshon Moreno on the Bulldogs’ first possession set the tone for the entire game.  Moreno never got on track, and Georgia became one-dimensional. 

Ditto the LSU game, when Florida hogtied Charles Scott and forced Jarrett Lee to make plays.  We all know how that turned out.

Kentucky and Vanderbilt didn’t make a first down in the first quarter against Florida, and when South Carolina tried to go to the air early in the game, they found themselves down 21-0 before they could blink. 

So with an average return and a predictable offensive series, Florida could very well force an early three and out, and Alabama would be forced to punt from their 30 or so. 

Just like that, the field position is won.

Because now it’s pick your poison.  Florida’s punt block team has been well-documented, and then there is Brandon James to worry about, who averages 14.7 yards per return and has two returns for touchdowns. 

Not only that, Alabama’s punt coverage team is not a strength either.  Only two teams in the SEC are giving up more yards per return. 

And this has been Florida’s season.  The Gators go 50-60 yards while forcing their opponents to go 80 or more yards.  Then the ugly cycle keeps repeating itself.  It’s a recipe that works well for the Gators.   

And if the Gators do have to punt, they are flat out insane on punt coverage, much of that courtesy of the good field position they get.  In 12 games, Florida has only allowed 43 total return yards off of punts.  Seriously.  That has to be some kind of record. 

But there’s more!

Not only do the Gators get the ball in good position, they simply own the redzone once they get there, scoring an absurd 44 touchdowns in 58 trips—good for 76%.  It should be a tug-of-war, so to speak, since Alabama prides itself on not letting opponents into the redzone, only allowing teams to reach the 20 yard line 16 times all season.

Something has to give this weekend. 

On the flip side, Florida’s redzone defense is almost as effective as the offense, allowing scores only 68% of the time.  They have also forced a fumble and an interception. 

Meanwhile, Alabama has only scored a touchdown in 57% of their trips to the redzone—and have settled for field goals more than any team in the SEC. The Tide has also lost two fumbles and thrown one interception inside the 20. 

Florida will happily trade touchdowns for field goals, as they did last week in a 45-15 trouncing of FSU. 

Then again, while Florida’s kicker, Jonathan Phillips, is a perfect 10-10 on field goals, Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin is 17-24, including a missed 29-yarder that would have won the LSU game without OT.

Tiffin also went 1-3 against Kentucky in a 17-14 game and does not have a big-time field goal all year. 

It seems like the bigger the stage, the smaller Tiffin gets.   And Alabama will need every point it get can come 4 PM on Saturday. 

Put it all together, and you get another Florida win. 

Game Prediction:  Florida 41, Alabama 20

And one last plug for Eric Brown’s article.


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