Could this be a passing contest?

When most people think Alabama offense, they think of a pounding running game that can explode at any minute because of the dynamic play makers at running back. Florida may not look to be at that level, but the gators ground gam has been their staple for four years and is currently averaging 248 yards a game and has scored five touchdowns on the ground in two games.

So, it may be a bit different to think that Saturday could be somewhat of a passing fest in Tuscaloosa. Both teams should definitely give it a try before all is said and done.

Exhibit-A is an All-American third year receiver in junior Amari Cooper for the Crimson Tide. He already has multi 1,000-yard receiving seasons and in three games this season, Cooper has amassed 454 yards which leads the Southeastern Conference.

Exhibit-B comes from a completely different recent past, but has made his mark early this season. Florida sophomore Demarcus Robinson has only played in two games but leads the SEC in yards per game at 169.5 totaling 339 yards and three touchdowns so far. Robinson caught all of five passes a year ago.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp via his SEC teleconference slot on Wednesday was asked to compare the two, and does see a lot of similarities and reasons they should be focal points of their respective offenses.

“They are both bigger guys,” Muschamp said of Cooper and Amari is probably (6-foot-2), Demarcus is right at (6-foot-1). They both have some length to them. I think their catch radius is off the charts. Both guys can go and get the football in a lot of different areas. They catch the ball off of their body. For bigger guys, they both change direction very well. Both guys run through contact very well. I think there are some similarities in both players.

“Amari is a guy that has been at Alabama longer than Demarcus has been here and certainly has sustained his consistency of performance.”

Muschamp continued on with Alabama’s receiving corps and tight ends and the reasons that the Gators are going to have to make sure they come to work in the secondary on Saturday.

“Amari Cooper is a fantastic player… DeAndrew WhiteChristion Jones is a slot guy that does a nice job and is an outstanding returner,” Muschamp said. O.J. Howard in the passing game, Brian Vogler is a guy that has been very valuable for them.”

Senior quarterback Blake Sims has also been a big positive for the Crimson Tide. In somewhat of a quarterback controversy as they look to replace four-year starter A.J. McCarron, Sims has risen to the top and performed very well in his new role as the starter going 48-64 for 646 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception in the first three games. He has also run for 02 yards in the three contests and is able to do things with his feet.

“The ability to extend plays,” Muschamp said is what makes Sims a dangerous player. “That is something for a defensive coordinator that is hard to deal with. The off-rhythm plays, the protection breaks down, the routes are covered and he can extend the play. He is an accurate thrower with a high percentage of completions. He proves it to me game in and game out and he is 3-0 which is the most important thing.”


The Gators have their own set of receivers to compliment Robinson. Senior Quinton Dunbar is the leading returning receiver on the team and should be a steady if not better force. Junior Latroy Pittman and sophomore Ahmad Fulwood are the other main targets. Senior tight ends Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook are workman type receivers and have showed well in Kurt Ropers new offense at Florida.

And Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is back after missing most of last season with a broken leg. Driskel is still finding his way in the new offense a bit, but is fifth in the conference after two games with 270.1 yards per game through the air and has added four touchdown passes. The knock so far is the execution of the deep ball, something he has worked hard on and continues to do so.

Alabama has had its issues in the secondary, which means Florida would likely try and take advantage of those issues. Alabama is sitting 7th in the conference giving up 220 yards per game, although they have only given up one touchdown through the air so far in 2014. They also will have to do without starting free safety Nick Perry who will be suspended for the first half of the contest due to an illegal hit last weekend.

The Gators had their own woes in the secondary against Kentucky. Kentucky sophomore Patrick Towles was able to hit on several long passes in the contest that went into triple overtime before the Gators pulled out the win. It is a very young and inexperienced secondary and there are issues they are working through at safety and NICKEL right now.

“We need to improve whether it is playing slot, safety, or corner… across the board,” Muschamp said. “Brian Poole had the one fade ball on the side line. It was a well thrown ball… he played well in the game and Vernon played well. Beyond that, we need to make some improvements in the secondary. There is no doubt about that.

Vernon of course is All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and he is a guy that gives the gators a lot of hope in defending against Cooper on Saturday. Muschamp was asked about his prize pupil and he couldn’t stop himself from pouring on the accolades.

“I think certain guys have ‘IT’,” Muschamp said of Hargreaves. “What is it? The guy that overcomes coaching in some situations (laughing). He certainly does that. He has great instincts, he’s very quick, has good long speed. He has natural ability to play with his back to the ball, which a lot of players really struggle with. You can work on that and enhance it, but the guy has a lot of poise with his back to the football. The way we play we end up in those situations a good bit.

“He has very good zone instincts, man-to-man cover skills, ball skills, extremely intelligent. The thing that is most pleasing to me about his skill set is his work ethic. He works extremely hard on the field. He practices hard, his thirst for information… he is always asking the right questions. Our players all have these IPads now and I see on Thursday and Friday the guys that have really put in the time of watching the film and going through the game plan. He spends as much time as anyone on our football team including the quarterbacks as far as really studying the film and studying what he is supposed to do and how he is supposed to do it.

“He’s got a very bright future and can play for a long time.”

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