Tide Poses Challenges on Both Sides of Ball

The friendship tour against Florida rivals continues this week for head coach Willl Muschamp. His close relationships with opposing head coaches, including Tennessee's Derek Dooley and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, faces its second test against Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Without Saban's decision to hire Muschamp, the Florida head coach might not be where he is now.

"I have great respect for Nick (Saban) and the job he does," Will Muschamp said on Monday morning. "I probably wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for the opportunity he gave me at LSU to be a position coach and then the coordinator."

It's tough to ignore the imprint Saban had on the coach Muschamp has become. Muschamp served as his defensive coordinator at LSU and held the same title when Saban was named the head coach for the Miami Dolphins.

"Philosophically, we are on the same page about what we want to be defensively and from an identity standpoint. He does a great job of managing his program top to bottom from recruiting, his philosophy, offense, defense, special teams and I have great respect for that. When you turn the game film on, you see a physically tough football team that plays with fundamentals. That's what he is and that's what he preaches every day. It certainly carries over on film who they are and what they are. There is no advantage. He knows me as well as I know him. There is no advantage in this game."

Muschamp is preparing for an Alabama offense that is based on the run. It has been that way since Saban took over at Alabama, and this year is no different. After seeing the field sparingly in his first two seasons, running back Trent Richardson has become the feature back this year. The junior is run for 441 yards, an average of 110.2 per game, and eight touchdowns this season. Eddie Lacy has run for 365 yards, 91.2 per game, and four touchdowns as a backup.

The question marks are in the passing game. Quarterback A.J. McCarron is 63-for-95 (66.3%) on the year for 779 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions this year. He has played one road game this season, coming in a 27-11 win at Penn State.

The departure of Julio Jones left a hole at receiver, which senior Marquis Maze has filled this year with 226 receiving yards and one touchdown.

"They do a good job of running the football and the play actions off of that," Muschamp said. "Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are two outstanding backs. AJ McCarron is very efficient. With only two interceptions so far this season, they've managed their football team very well with what they've asked them to do. Marquis Maze is a young man you always have to account for. He's been there a long time, been a four-year starter for them and has done a nice job in their return game. Their offensive line also does a great job with the run game."

It's the defense that has led the Alabama team so far this year. The unit is the best scoring defense (8.0 points per game), rushing defense (45.8 yards per game), passing defense (138.2 yards per game), and total defense (184 yards per game) in the SEC.

Despite the dominant numbers, the Crimson Tide has only recorded five sacks in four games this season. The Gators have allowed just two in four games, and the Florida offensive line must continue to give John Brantley time to throw.

"They have a bunch of guys that have played a lot of football. You look at guys like (Mark) Barron, (Dont'a) Hightower, (Tana) Patrick, (Courtney) Upshaw – those guys played two years ago in Pasadena, they were starters then, so they do a nice job defensively playing on the line of scrimmage. They are very well tied together as far as their unit is concerned."

The matchup is Pasadena gave Muschamp a look at the Crimson Tide two years ago. Then the defensive coordinator at Texas, Muschamp spent a month watching Alabama film and preparing to stop their offense. He got a good look at what their players could do.

There are obvious differences, such as the loss of Jones, Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy, but the scheme is still similar.

"There are some similarities obviously, but again, there are different players. A guy like Marquis Maze has been a fabulous guy for them through the first four games. He's averaging five receptions a game. He's the guy you have to account for. They are different from a personnel standpoint – they have outstanding backs. Their offensive line has two guys that started for them in that game that are back and have played a lot of football for them. The similarities are obviously there, but I think (offensive coordinator Jim McElwain) does a good job of giving you some wrinkles from week-to-week that you'll need to adjust to in the game."

The challenges for the Florida offense against Alabama are plentiful. It centers around the Crimson Tide being in their fifth year running the same defensive scheme under Saban. That's something Muschamp doesn't have the luxury to say about his team.

Saban and his staff have recruited the type of players he wants to fit his 3-4 scheme, and that's a benefit of being there for five seasons. The inexperience of the Florida defense in the first year of a similar scheme that Muschamp runs hasn't hurt the team yet, but the experience of the Alabama defense allows them to change things on the fly and react quickly.

"The players understand what's being asked as far as adjustments," Muschamp said. "The new things that pop up in games, they are able to adjust very quickly to. They have good players. They've done a good job recruiting – the type of player they want. I think as you look at that, they're very talented and tied together from the back end to the front end and have guys with experience that have played in big games before.

"That is why they have a good defensive football team. You have to be multiple when you play Alabama, you can't be one-dimensional with what you do."

INJURY UPDATE: Muschamp said that cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) is the only player that will not play against Alabama. He said after the win at Kentucky that tight Jordan Reed and wide receiver Andre Debose were expected to practice fully on Monday. Jon Halapio went down during the Kentucky game with an injury, but Muschamp said he is good to go.

The addition of Reed to the Florida offense will be important for the team. He was hurt during the second game of the season in a win over UAB and hasn't played since.

"Vertical passing game," Muschamp said when asked what Reed brings to the team. "He's a guy that can stretch the field. He's a guy that blocks well at the point of attack, but he's also a guy you have to account for in the passing game, he's an accomplished receiver."

PROTECTING DEMPS AND RAINEY: The Florida coaching staff is well aware of the battles they're fighting with the offense. It's a struggle to balance protecting two running backs that weigh in under 200 pounds.

"We don't have a whole lot of contact with them in practice," Muschamp said. "These guys have played a lot of football; they play very well and are physically tough players. Most of the contact they're enduring is only during the game. We do a lot of things surrounding ball security with them throughout the week consciously, but they don't take a lot of hits during the week.

"We're going to do what we need to do to win the game. Obviously, those are two of our better playmakers, so they're going to touch the ball. What different ways will they touch the ball: whether it's from the slot, from outside, matching up on a linebacker on a vertical route – the touches we get them could be different and not as conventional as we've seen to this point."

Fightin Gators Top Stories