Tide Offense Has Been Rebuilt

Florida returned 11 defensive starters from the 2008 team that won the national championship, and most of those will be in the lineup when Alabama has the ball Saturday in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Those Gators won't recognize many faces across the line from them.



Alabama and Florida will meet at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central) Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. CBS will televise the game. Both teams are 12-0 and were 8-0 in SEC games. Florida is ranked first in the nation, Alabama second. The winner heads to Pasadena for the national championship game on January 7.

The only offensive players likely to see action against Florida this year who were in the SEC Championship Game a year ago are wide receiver Julio Jones, right tackle Drew Davis and left guard Mike Johnson.

Rebuilding notwithstanding, Alabama has done well offensively, ranking fourth in the SEC in both scoring and total offense.

"It was really guys putting in hard work," said Johnson, the 6-6, 303-pound senior left guard from Pensacola, Fla. "I've said time and time again that the offensive line put in a lot of work. The same thing Mark Ingram did and Greg McElroy. Just all those guys getting their nose in the book and learning this offense and being able to be prepared for situations we see on Saturdays. I think everyone has seen it pay off. It has really shown."

The Gators are not strangers to Johnson.

"They've got a lot of familiar faces, especially on defense," Johnson said. "We don't have very many on offense.

"It's a little bit different offense for us."

Johnson said that preparation for Florida would be as any other week, watching film and "try to prepare for them. I'll offer any insight (to his teammates) I can because I played in the game last year.

"They are a good team defense, have a lot of team speed, and a lot of great players.

"They play great team defense. It seems like they're never out of place. They're always in the right place at the right time. Good gap control. I think the biggest thing for us is being able to get movement up front and displace that gap control defense they have. Just make sure we communicate. They try to confuse you a little bit. Just making sure we communicate with the new guys in the offensive line and make sure they know where to go."

Johnson said Florida would attempt to confuse the Tide offensive front with a variety of blitzes and third down fronts. "But," he said, "I think we've done a good job all year, and we'll try to continue that Saturday." Confuse you how, with looks?

Although Johnson said it would be like any other week, he said players would try to put in extra work, "watching more film, just keeping our heads in the books, trying to be in the right place at the right time."

Johnson said this year's offensive changes came from off-season work, concentration "on communication and on explosive plays; not just as a grind the ball offense, but trying to take big chunks of yardage. I think we've done a pretty good job of that for most of the season. We've had a lot of explosive runs and quite a few explosive passes that we didn't have last year. It's a little bit different of an offense. Not so much ball control, grind it out, just trying to make explosive plays."

Although teams have "loaded the box" on Alabama the past two years, one of the few teams to have success with that technique was Auburn in Bama's 26-21 win over the Tigers in Auburn Friday.

"It just seemed like they were in the right place at the right time," Johnson said. "It seemed like every time they had a safety come up he was right in the hole we were running to. It just seemed to be there where we were going. Nothing I can say more than that. We did a good job most of the time at getting a hat on a hat. They always seemed to have a guy in the right place at the right time."

Alabama had a grind-it-out drive to win the game against Auburn last Friday. Johnson pointed out a difference in this year and 2008. "I guess one of the big differences was that it was mostly through the air," he said. "Last year it would have been on the ground. You can't say enough about Greg and the job those receivers did."

Having played 12 games, Johnson said the bodies are a bit sore. "I think everybody's beaten up these days," he said. "But we're 12-0 and it'd probably hurt a lot worse if we were 6-6. I can't say that I feel great, but we're heading into an SEC Championship Game and we're going to put it all on the line.

I think we're pretty hungry for this championship. We want to get things done."

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