That number stands out like a sore thumb when taking stock of the Alabama secondary. In three games, two against vastly inferior opponents, the Alabama defensive backs have yet to pick off a pass while giving up 220 yards per game and 59.4% completions. Usually a collection of ball hawks, the Bama secondary just hasn’t created turnovers and that has to be a concern for head coach Nick Saban going into Saturday’s game with Florida and its revamped offensive scheme that is a radical departure from the three yards and a cloud of yawns offense from the past three years. The Gators are winging it around for 345.5 yards per game the first two and you know that has Saban’s attention, particularly with starting free safety Nick Perry forced to sit the first half Saturday after getting ejected for targeting last week against Southern Miss.
To compensate for the loss of Perry, Bama is likely to move nickel Geno Smith to safety where he started several games last year after Vinnie Sunseri went down with an ACL tear. If Smith moves to safety, Maurice Smith will move to the nickel. Since the Gators typically go three or four wide, Smith figures to be on the field quite a bit.
Florida’s version of the spread, which also includes a no huddle, up tempo approach, will force Alabama out of its signature 3-4 alignment for much of the game. Alabama will probably play most of the game with five defensive backs in the game at all times. That means 225-pound All-American safety Landon Collins will be playing closer to the line of scrimmage and covering the Florida tight ends rather than helping out against one of the Gators’ outside receivers.
The key matchup in the secondary figures to be Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson against Bama corners Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones. Jackson is 6-0, 188 sophomore with four tackles in two games and one forced fumble. Jones is a 5-10, 194-pound junior with 11 tackles, a pass breakup and forced fumble. Robinson, who is 6-2, 200, is coming off a 15-catch, 216-yard game against Kentucky. For the season he has 21 catches for 339 yards and three touchdowns.
Since none of the experts are giving the Gators a chance, it’s obvious they need a motivational speech to fire them up. Courtesy of Bill Murray from the movie “Meatballs” we have one of the truly fiery pre-game speeches of all time. Murray is describing Camp Mohawk in the speech. Camp Mohawk sounds an awful lot like Alabama.
#3 ALABAMA: Through three games, Alabama’s offensive line has given up only two sacks. The task Saturday will be to keep Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. out of Blake Sims’ face. Against Kentucky last week, Fowler had a sack for an eight-yard loss, two tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. Bama’s right tackle, Austin Shepherd (6-5, 320, fifth year SR) will have the primary task of slowing down Fowler.
Arkansas: It’s no secret that Arkansas will try to ram the ball down the throats of Northern Illinois, but Northern will counter with a spread offense that is producing 42 points and 550.7 yards per game. For the Razorbacks to get the Huskies off the field, they will have to contain quarterback Drew Hare, who has thrown for 494 yards and six touchdowns (no picks) and run for 156 yards and two more scores.
#5 Auburn: The key for Auburn’s defense Thursday night in Manhattan, Kansas will be to stop K-State quarterback Jake Waters from making plays with his feet. Waters is a serious threat when he tucks and runs. So far he has 37 carries for 193 yards (5.22 per carry) and four touchdowns. Waters has also thrown for 462 yards (8.1 per pass attempt) and two touchdowns.
#13 Georgia: Freshman running back Nick Chubb underwent surgery on his fractured thumb Monday. Doctors inserted screws into the thumb. No timetable has been set for his return but he will miss Saturday’s game with Troy for sure.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats are idle this week. They face Vanderbilt in Lexington on September 27.
#8 LSU: What makes defending Mississippi State so tough is that quarterback Dak Prescott (696 passing yards, 11 touchdowns; 273 yards rushing, two touchdowns) requires so much attention that it’s easy to let Josh Robinson sneak up and bust a big play. Robinson has carried 46 times for 288 yards (6.26 per carry) and three touchdowns. He is a real threat on wheel routes out of the backfield where he has caught five passes for 94 yards.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Against UAB, the Bulldogs gave up 435 passing yards and touchdowns of 88, 81 and 75 yards. Saturday at Baton Rouge, the Mississippi State secondary will be tested severely by LSU wide receiver Travin Dural, whose gaudy three-game numbers are 12 catches for 370 yards (30.8 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Dural has touchdown catches of 80, 94 and 28 yards so far.
#18 Missouri: A week after shutting down UCF’s ground game, Missouri will try to slow down Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman, who has games of 247 and 190 yards already to go with touchdown runs of 73, 46, 31 and 28 yards already this season. Coleman averages 9.3 yards per carry. Nose tackle Lucas Vincent will have to be as gap sound against the Hoosiers as he was last week against UCF when he had three tackles including 1.5 for 12 yards in losses.
#14 South Carolina: One of the few things Vanderbilt has done well so far this season is get after the passer, particularly when Caleb Azubike comes off the edge. Azubike is a pure speed rusher who will be lined up across from Corey Robinson (6-8, 344). Last week South Carolina’s O-line gave up only two sacks to Georgia’s feared pass rush. To avoid the upset on the road Saturday, the Gamecocks have to keep Dylan Thompson’s jersey clean and that starts with Robinson handling Azubike.
Tennessee: The Vols are idle this week. They return to action September 27 when they travel to Athens to face Georgia.
#6 Texas A&M: The Aggies will be without super freshman wide receiver Speedy Noil for Saturday’s game with SMU. Noil sustained a knee injury and could be out as many as five weeks. Through three games, Noil has 12 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown, plus he is averaging 24.7 yards per punt return and has returned one kickoff 53 yards.
VANDERBILT: With Jerron Seymour injured, Ralph Webb has taken over the tailback duties and performed admirably for a challenged offense with 281 yards and a touchdown including 116 last week in the win over UMass. With both Seymour (14 rushing touchdowns last year) and Webb, the Commodores hope to exploit a South Carolina defense that is giving up 172.67 yards per game and 5.29 per carry. Senior center Joe Townsend (6-4, 312), a three-year letter winner, will have the task of moving J.T. Surratt (6-2, 310) out of the way to give Webb and Seymour a crease.
Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Florida
Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. Missouri or West Virginia vs. Mississippi State
Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Virginia Tech
Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Tennessee or Duke vs. South Carolina
Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. Marshall or Alabama vs. Michigan State
Fiesta Bowl: South Carolina vs. Michigan State
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. LSU or Pitt vs. Auburn
Outback Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida or Wisconsin vs. Georgia
Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Georgia
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss or Nebraska vs. LSU
Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Virginia Tech or Missouri vs. Penn State
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Tennessee
Sugar Bowl (National semifinal): Florida State vs. Texas A&M
The CBSSports.com bracketologist has Alabama representing the Southeastern Conference in the playoff, seeded number one and facing #4 Oregon in the semifinal. Palm has the Gators playing Iowa in the Gator Bowl. Officially it’s the TaxSlayer Bowl, but I just can’t bring myself to call it anything but what it’s always been – the Gator Bowl. Palm has 10 of the 14 SEC teams making a bowl game.Rose Bowl (National semifinal): Alabama vs. Oregon
Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs. USC
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Auburn
Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. Cincinnati
Gator Bowl: Iowa vs. Florida
Outback Bowl: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: Ohio State vs. LSU
Belk Bowl: Duke vs. Mississippi State
Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Missouri
Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Formerly of Sports Illustrated. Mandel now resides at Fox Sports where he is the senior football columnist. Mandel has Auburn representing the SEC in college football’s final four, seeding #2 and facing #3 Oregon in the semifinals.Sugar Bowl (semifinal #1): #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Rose Bowl (semifinal #2): #2 Auburn vs. #3 Oregon
The Big Ten is 1-10 against out of conference opponents from the five power conferences and Notre Dame. The only unbeatens in the Big Ten are Nebraska and Penn State … Clemson players say they feel disrespected by Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett went on to say that Winston “is a guy who makes it all about him” … Arizona State will be playing without quarterback Taylor Kelly until October 18 at the earliest after suffering a broken foot against Colorado … Miami booted backup quarterback Kevin Olsen out of school after his arrest for DUI and using a fake or stolen driver’s license … The NFL Players Association has appealed the one year suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice … The NFLPA has told Wes Welker that he can play Sunday for the Denver Broncos. He was supposed to be out for six games.
Is Alabama’s defense as formidable as ever or is it one that the Gators are capable of exploiting?
John Mayall turns 81 in November but he’s still on the road playing a schedule that would kill younger men. He’s playing FTC Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut tonight as his American tour winds down. On October 13 he plays Moscow to start the European tour,which includes more than 30 dates. If you’ve never caught him live, he does a show you’ll always remember. He doesn’t play guitar very much anymore, sticking with the piano and organ while letting younger guys take the lead on the guitar. This is “So Many Roads” which debuted in 1969 on his “Looking Back” album. This version features Mayall on vocals backed up by some rather cool guitar work by the late Gary Moore, who spent his life making other people sound good.