Alabama-Florida Preview

BY foxsports • September 27, 2011

The recipe for success for both Alabama and Florida has been very similar - the offense revolves around running the ball and the defense smothers the opponents' ground attack.

The third-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 12 Gators will see how their strengths stack up against one another as they meet in Saturday night's highly anticipated SEC showdown at The Swamp.

Alabama (4-0, 1-0) and Florida (4-0, 2-0) are virtually mirror images of one another. The Tide are third in the FBS in rush defense at 45.8 yards, while the Gators are tied for fifth at 56.5, and Florida leads the SEC in rushing at 259.0 yards, while Alabama is second at 230.8.

The similarities between the teams are not surprising considering first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp was an assistant under Nick Saban when he coached at LSU and the Miami Dolphins.

"Will's doing a really, really good job. He did a great job for me for a long time," Saban said. "This will be a real challenging game for us, in all phases, but we want to focus on controlling the things that we control and what we do."

That starts with establishing the run behind Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

Richardson ranks second in the SEC in rushing with 441 yards, and ran for 126 yards on 17 carries in last Saturday's 38-14 win over then-No. 14 Arkansas.

Lacy is seventh in the league with 365 rushing yards, and boasts an impressive 8.9 yards per attempt - second only to Florida's Jeff Demps, who is averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

Demps, eighth in the SEC with 320 yards on the ground, needed just 10 carries to rack up 157 rushing yards in last Saturday's 48-10 win over Kentucky. Chris Rainey, tied for fourth in the conference with 411 yards running, ran for 105 yards last weekend to help the Gators finish with 405 yards on the ground, their sixth-best single-game performance in school history and most since a 466-yard performance against New Mexico in 1989.

"Their strength as a team has been their ability to run the ball and consistently make big plays running the ball," Saban said. "Even though it's a little bit different style, they're still featuring the same players doing things that they're very, very good at, which is making plays in space, running the ball on the perimeter, and making it difficult for you to match up."

The Tide have already proven they can neutralize a high-powered offense after limiting the Razorbacks to 226 yards, including 17 on 19 rushes. Arkansas came in ranked 11th in the FBS in total offense at 517.3 yards and eighth in scoring at 47.0.

"We set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC,'' Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "So we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning.''

The Tide's defense took a bit hit last week, however, as linebacker C.J. Mosley left in the first half with an elbow injury. Mosley has 12 tackles and a sack, and returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in last season's 31-6 home win over the Gators.

Alabama has won five of seven in the series with Florida since 1999, including a 31-6 rout last year, but now must prepare for facing a run-first offense under new coordinator Charlie Weis.

''There are certain games that bring the intensity,'' Gators quarterback John Brantley said. ''When I say they mean the same, they mean the same on the schedule - a win's a win. And different games bring different intensities, but we try to be as intense in game one as we are in game 10. You always want to bring that intensity.''

Brantley, who completed 16 of 31 passes for 202 yards and two interceptions in last season's loss to Alabama, hasn't been called upon to pass as much this season, throwing for 752 yards, four touchdowns and two picks on 86 attempts.

Playing in a similar-style offense, Alabama's AJ McCarron has put up nearly identical numbers, passing for 779 yards with four TDs and two picks in 95 throws.

Led by junior linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Jelani Jenkins and sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd, Florida is also focused on taking away the run to force McCarron to pass.

"A lot of teams want to run on us" Muschamp said. "So we got to defend the run before we can defend the pass."

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