Florida Gators Football Preview: Keys To Defeating Alabama

The Florida Gators football team will play the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game. What must Florida do to win?

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs with the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators have an opportunity to legitimize what’s been one of the most noteworthy seasons in program history. Florida has overcome injuries to eight different starters to win eight games and secure the SEC East title.

On Saturday, December 3, the Gators have the chance to win the SEC outright by defeating the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide—the tallest of tasks.

Despite its laundry list of injuries, Florida has been a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron. It’s one of the nation’s elite defensive teams, has a breakout star at running back, and recently earned a road victory over the LSU Tigers

Impressive as that all may be, no team has been able to defeat the Crimson Tide during the 2016 college football season.

Alabama is 12-0 overall and 8-0 in the SEC with an average margin of victory of 28.0 points per game. Just one of its games has ended by a single-digit margin: a 48-43 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels on September 17.

Roughly three months later, the Gators will have a chance to do the unthinkable and upset the Crimson Tide. The question is: how?

Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) in action during the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

5. Austin Appleby

No matter what else happens against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Florida Gators will need Austin Appleby to step up. Thus, while this could easily be No. 1, it checks in at No. 5 to set the tone for the rest of the game.

If Appleby can’t piece an extraordinary game together, the Gators will be on the wrong side of victory against Alabama.

To clarify, exceptional doesn’t necessarily mean the Gators need Appleby to go off for 300 passing yards and three touchdowns. Playing exceptionally well could simply mean moving the chains in key moments and setting his team up for success.

Regardless of how Appleby is able to meet the definition, the Gators simply cannot afford to have him come up short against the Crimson Tide.

When Ole Miss took Alabama down to the wire during a 48-43 loss, Chad Kelly had 421 passing yards and three touchdowns. Trevor Knight had two touchdowns when Texas A&M gave Alabama some trouble, but it was the LSU game that showed what Appleby needs to do.

LSU lost 10-0 during a game that Danny Etling had 92 passing yards and no touchdowns. If Florida’s defense steps up and Appleby steps up, the Gators could win.

Nov 26, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) gets away from Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Marlon Davidson (3) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

4. Containing The Run

The Alabama Crimson Tide have one of the most explosive offensive groups in the country. We’ll touch upon the passing attacks on a future slide, but Alabama overwhelms the opposition with its running game.

Between starting running back Damien Harris and starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, Alabama has what’s been an unstoppable two-headed monster on the ground.

Hurts has run for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games, and Harris isn’t too far behind. Though he hasn’t been as effective in finding the end zone, he’s rushed for 900 yards and two scores on an average of 7.3 yards per carry.

If that’s not enough, Joshua Jacobs has run for 513 yards and three touchdowns, and Bo Scarbrough, who has missed the past two games but expects to be available, has picked up 448 yards and five touchdowns.

Alabama is averaging 245.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 2 in the SEC and No. 15 in the country. It has four different players who could go off at any given moment, which doesn’t even include the injured B.J. Emmons.

Containing the run the game will be no easy feat, but if Florida can do this, it can put pressure on the passing attack to anchor the offense. From there, it’s a matter of the following.

Nov 26, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) drops back to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated the Auburn Tigers 30-12. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

3. Defending The Passing Attack

The Alabama Crimson Tide have long been known for physically dominant defense and a powerful array of running backs. In 2016, starting quarterback Jalen Hurts has changed everything for Nick Saban’s offense.

If the Gators are to have any chance at defeating the Crimson Tide, then the primary goal must be to contain Hurts.

Hurts has amassed upwards of 3,000 yards of total offense with 33 total touchdowns. He’s accumulated 2,454 passing yards and 21 touchdowns through the air to nine interceptions with 12 rushing scores and 840 yards gained on the ground.

Simply put, Hurts is one of the best players in the country and a player who should be garnering more respect in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Having established that, Hurts was contained during Alabama’s two toughest tests: LSU and Ole Miss. He recorded a combined zero passing touchdowns and 265 passing yards during those games, and although he ran well, that helped Ole Miss and LSU pursue victory.

If Teez Tabor, Caleb Brantley, and the Gators can limit Hurts’ effectiveness as a passer on Saturday, then Florida will have a chance to win the SEC Championship Game.

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2. Trust Jordan Scarlett

The Florida Gators have been one of the least effective offensive teams in the broad landscape of college football. There have been moments of encouraging progress, but there have also been extended stretches of lackluster play.

In order to overcome those offensive inconsistencies, Florida’s best chance to succeed is to give running back Jordan Scarlett as many touches as possible.

LSU defensive end Arden Key called Scarlett, “One of the top five running backs in the country,” per Edward Aschoff of ESPN. He’s looked the part in recent weeks, with 100-yard rushing performances against Missouri, South Carolina, and LSU.

The fact that he ran so well against South Carolina and LSU—teams with two of the best run defenses in the country—is a testament to his rising profile.

The sophomore running back has run for 778 yards and six touchdowns on an average of 5.1 yards per carry in 2016. He’s eclipsed 100 yards in the only three games he’s received at least 20 carries and fights through contact on every carry.

It’s far from a guarantee that Scarlett will be able to create offense against the Crimson Tide, but he gives Florida its best chance to create offense.

Nov 12, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Take Care Of The Ball

The Florida Gators football team has to be responsible. That may seem like a broad statement, but when a team plays the Alabama Crimson Tide, the worst thing it can do is give the opposition opportunities to excel.

According to Alex Scarborough of ESPN, head coach Jim McElwain knows what the Gators need to defeat Alabama: avoid unnecessary mistakes.

“The biggest thing is you can’t hurt yourself. Whatever they get, you’ve got to make them earn it.”

There’s no such thing as a perfect game, but Florida must play something close to it against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama has an elite defense and an explosive offense that can legitimately dominate teams. Whether or not it records interceptions or recovers fumbles, Alabama can smother an offensive unit and consistently achieve great field position.

Against a Gators team that struggles to move the ball already, Alabama projects to consistently achieve fantastic field position.

The key for the Gators will be to avoid those outcomes by playing it smart and taking the necessary chances. That means taking care of the football, succeeding on third downs, and not allowing big plays on special teams.

The question is: can the Gators play well and simultaneously not beat themselves?

A combination of responsibility and a commitment to efficient execution will be the key to team success.

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