ATLANTA (AP) — Talk about a mismatch. Alabama’s defense is the best in the nation. Florida’s offense looks like one of the worst.
They’ll face off Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championships game, with the top-ranked Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0 SEC) heavily favored to lock up its third straight trip to the College Football Playoff with a victory over the No. 15 Gators (8-3, 6-2).
Alabama has not given up a defensive touchdown in 17 quarters, a span that covers its entire November schedule. The Tide leads the nation in three major categories, giving up the fewest points, rushing yards and total yards.
“When we go out there Saturday, we just try to dominate,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “Just do your job and just dominate the opposing offense. That’s the legacy.”
Florida will get a jarring reminder of its high-scoring legacy when former coach Steve Spurrier helps with the coin toss before the game.
These Gators are certainly a long way from the Fun ‘n’ Gun days.
Over its last 10 quarters, Florida has scored just one offensive touchdown — a 98-yard pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland that sparked an SEC East-clinching win over LSU. The Gators rank No. 114 nationally in total yards, ahead of only six other Power Five schools, and they haven’t shown much ability to move the ball either running or passing.
Now, this offensively challenged team must contend with the stingiest defense in the land.
Coach Jim McElwain joked that it might be best to skip the filmwork this week, just so his players wouldn’t realize what they’re up against.
Then he turned serious.
“The thing you point out is really how close you are from a consistency standpoint,” McElwain said, doing his best to put a positive spin on such a dire predicament. “We had our opportunities last couple games, yet the mindset of finishing is something we have to do.”
Good luck with that against the Tide, which has given up 10 points or less in eight games.
“Obviously with these guys that we’re playing, the thing that really stands out is how short the explosive play reel is when you look at it,” McElwain said. “They don’t give a lot of big plays up. You’ve got to go earn it.”
Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama has certainly earned the right to be called one of college football’s greatest dynasties. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Tide is 110-12 with four national championships.
Saban has won five national titles during his career, leaving him one shy of the record held by Bear Bryant.
Of course, Saban is merely focused on the next one.
“Can’t really fall in love with what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
Some things to watch for Saturday at the Georgia Dome:
While defense is always the name of the game at Alabama, the development of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a major part of the Tide’s success. He took over the starting job in Week 2 and gave the offense a dual threat, throwing for 2,454 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 840 yards and 12 TDs. Saban is most impressed with his maturity. “He really has a resiliency just to come back and focus on the next play,” the coach said.
Hurts will have to contend with two of the country’s best cornerbacks. Teez Tabor has four interceptions, Quincy Wilson has three, and both have returned a pick for a touchdown. If the Gators are to have any chance against Alabama, it’s likely that either Tabor and Wilson will have to come up with a game-changing play.
There’s plenty of speculation about how much longer Lane Kiffin will be Alabama’s offensive coordinator. He’s been mentioned for head coach openings at Oregon and Houston, and LSU new coach, Ed Orgeron, reportedly wants Kiffin as his offensive coordinator. “I know nothing about it,” Saban said. “He’s never mentioned it to me. I’m sure he would if there was something out there.”
Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, the team’s defensive leader and second-leading tackler, returned to practice this week after missing three games with ankle injuries. He’s a senior and Georgia native who desperately wants to play in the title game. “If you can give the team one play, whatever that play might be, that’s what it’s all about,” McElwain said.
It’s only appropriate that Alabama and Florida meet in the SEC’s 25th annual championship game. They played in the first three contests, and this will be their ninth meeting overall with the title on the line. In a nod to the inaugural game in 1992, the coin toss will be conducted by Spurrier, former Alabama coach Gene Stallings and Roy Kramer, who was SEC commissioner at the time. “It’s two storied programs, two programs that year in and year out expect to be in Atlanta,” McElwain said.