Last week the Gators hit the road looking to exorcise the demons of Starkville '04 by handling an overmatched opponent and they did just that.
But this week is different. Sure, the Gators want to win --- any idiot (present company included) knows that. But this is the first game of the year that Florida doesn't have to win. While many dream of running the table and claiming a national title most do not consider such goals realistic. Winning the SEC East is realistic; defending the home field advantage is realistic. Both of those laudable goals are still on the table no matter what happens in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Lack Of Pressure Equals Relaxed Team
Urban Meyer's Gators can take that lack of pressure into Saturday's game and play with a relaxed intensity that makes this team most dangerous. Florida, and more specifically, Chris Leak, showed in Lexington that the offense has the potential to put a bunch of points on the board. Leak has to be willing to keep the ball once or twice a quarter to make the counter/option running game work. Jemalle Cornelius opened a lot of eyes elsewhere that he can be a major threat and the offensive line in the words of Meyer, "blocked someone for the first time all year."
Not The Same For the Tide
Alabama would love to be in Florida's shoes this weekend. And no one more so than Coach Mike Shula. The third-year mentor has yet to win over the faithful, in part because of his less-than-stellar resume' but in greater part because of his less-than-stellar results. Shula is 14-15 with the Tide and that includes Bama's 4-0 start this season. He is winless against ranked teams at home, something that also plagued Ron Zook.
Bama showed some progress last year, going 6-6, but even that was disappointing since the Tide ended the season with a three-game losing streak. Shula's credentials are on the offensive side of the ball but Alabama has not been very good there. Last year the Tide was held to fewer than 17 points in all six of their losses.
For Shula to be accepted as Alabama's coach and for this team to re-establish itself among the nation's elite, they need a win Saturday. Bama needs to show it can beat ranked teams at home. It needs to show it can score points against a quality defense. And Shula needs to show he has something more to offer than a really impressive last name.
As a result I expect Alabama to be a little uptight in this game and a fast start for Florida could add to the stress level for the big red elephants.
Another Tough Runner To Contend With
One of the big keys for the Gators will be how well the Florida defense handles Bama runner Kenneth Darby. A thousand-yard runner a year ago, Darby is on a similar pace this year. Unlike Tennessee's Gerald Riggs, Darby is not going to run through you or move the pile on the goal line. However, Darby is faster and offers the threat of turning short runs into much longer ones.
Another guy who the Gators have to focus on is Tyrone Prothro. The 5-8, 175-pound junior is a poor man's version of David Palmer. Extremely quick and elusive, Prothro is a threat running the ball (8-86, 10.8), catching the ball (12-191, 15.9, TD), returning punts (9-83, 9.2, long 21), and returning kickoffs (6-177, 29.5, long 66). I love watching guys like this, but teams facing them don't. Prothro is not as good as Palmer (or Florida's Jacquez Green) but he's still a threat.
Defensively Bama is loaded at linebacker and very good in the secondary, but I am surprised at how ineffective their defensive line has been. Arkansas pounded Alabama in the ground (40-237) for almost six yards a carry. If Florida's offensive line can block 'Bama as well the Gators could have a very productive day offensively.
Five Cool Florida/Alabama Moments
1. Danny's Hurt, NOT!: Florida's quarterback feigns injury on the way to the sideline. Eric Kresser comes off the bench and with everyone expecting a safe run he throws deep for a big gain.
2. Pass to Doering, NOT!: Same drive of the '94 SEC Title game sees Wuerffel LATERAL to Doering who passes to Aubrey Hill setting up the winning touchdown.
3. Edge to Punt, NOT!: In Birmingham the previous year, Florida's most athletic and personable punter takes off on his own for a key first down as Gators knock off the Tide for the Title. It was 14-13 at the time, but the next play Terry Dean hit Jack Jackson for a TD and Florida won, 28-13.
4. Wuerffel to Quezzie for 85: In the '96 shootout (45-30), Bama had closed to within three (31-28) on a 94-yard scoring play. Less than a minute later Danny his Jacquez Green streaking down the sideline for an 85-yard TD. It was Wuerffel's fifth TD pass of the day.
5. SEC Fan Fare Comes To Halt: Earlier that day I'm hosting a talk show at the SEC Fan Fare, but everyone is crowded around TV sets watching the Texas/Nebraska battle in the Big 12 title game. The Longhorns' win opened the door for UF to get a second shot at FSU.
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