Gators Go By Air

The match-up most likely to be considered in Alabama-Florida football analysis this week is the passing attack of the Gators against the Crimson Tide's secondary.

Alabama, 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked 15th in the nation, hosts Florida, also 4-0, 2-0, and ranked fifth in the nation, at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS.

When Florida went looking for a new coach following last season, the Gators were able to convince Urban Meyer, formerly of Bowling Green and Utah, to take the sunshine over the tradition of Notre Dame. And what Meyer brings to Florida is an extraordinary offense.

Moreover, the Gators have the personnel to run the offense. (In truth, Florida probably has the offense to run any offense.)

Against that, Alabama has a seasoned secondary.

Bama Head Coach Mike Shula said that he expected this year's defense to be improved over last year's (which ranked among the nation's best) because of experience. In early games, he has been reasonably satisfied, although he thought there was fall off last week against Arkansas' running game.

Bama has returning starters at right cornerback in Anthony Madison, left cornerback Ramzee Robinson, strong safety Charlie Peprah, and safety Roman Harper. Additionally, Simeon Castille is considered a first team cornerback and has seen action on 187 snaps, virtually the same as Robinson (193) and Madison (184). Additionally, Jeffrey Dukes has been in on 172 plays. Dukes and Madison have both been used as nickel backs.

The main names Florida brings to Tuscaloosa are quarterback Chris Leak, who leads the SEC in passing efficiency and is second only to Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler in passing yards. Leak has completed 81 of 114 passes (71.1 per cent) for an average of 259.2 yards per game with a league best nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.

His favorite target is Chad Jackson of Hoover, who is leading the SEC in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game. Jackson has 32 receptions (Alabama's top three receivers, D.J. Hall, Tyrone Prothro and Keith Brown have a total of only one more, 33) for 401 yards, and six touchdowns.

Pass defense is more than just coverage by the defensive backs. A successful defense includes putting pressure on the quarterback–ideally, sacking him a few times. And if the defense can stop the run and make the opponent pass, that usually makes passing less efficient.

Florida ranks third in the SEC in passing offense, averaging 268.2 yards per game. Alabama ranks second in the conference, allowing 144.8 yards per game (just behind Florida's 144.0 mark).

When Florida and Tennessee played a couple of weeks ago in the game of SEC Eastern Division heavyweights, it was the defense that prevailed for both sides. Florida currently ranks first and Alabama second in overall defense.

Alabama ranks first in the SEC in sacks with 13 for 89 yards in losses. Florida has been sacked more than any other SEC team, 14 times for 93 yards in losses.

Shula said it will be important for Alabama's cornerbacks to play well this week. In answer to questions about two of them in his Sunday teleconference with sportswriters, Shula said Castille "is a football player. He's stronger than he was last year. He has good speed and he understands his job, whether he's blitzing or covering. He doesn't let the last play affect him. He has good speed and quickness and has been a very productive player for us."

Robinson was out much of fall practice, but has worked his way back into his starting position at left cornerback. Shula said, "It was kind of frustrating that he had the back injury, but he's feeling good now. He has a great personality, a strong mind, a lot of energy. He's one of the best players on our football team because of his hard work. He probably hasn't had as many balls thrown to his side this year as he did last year. We need him to be real solid. He has good quickness and likes to challenge receivers. He's done everything we've asked him to do."

Shula said, "I feel good about the way our corners are playing. They'll be tested more this week than at any other time this year. We need all three of them playing well."


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