This week also marks the Gator Gala on Friday night celebrating 100 years of Gator Football and the throwback uniforms will be on display Saturday at the Swamp. This is the beginning of the second phase of Florida's season in which the Gators must survive and prosper if they are going to Atlanta.
Alabama Statistic: The Tide have beaten the Gators 15 out of 24 meetings since both teams join the SEC together beginning in 1933.
Florida's offense has put up impressive numbers in year two under the direction of Dan Mullen. Through four games they lead the SEC in total offense, they are second in scoring offense and first in third down conversion percentage. Mullen has done a great job of spreading the wealth without getting too far away from his "go-to" weapons. Dallas Baker, DeShawn Wynn and Percy Harvin are the three "go-to" guys. Jemalle Cornelius is really playing well and Cornelius Ingram is on his way to being a legit threat for Mullen.
The interesting things so far have been the appearance and disappearance of Bubba Caldwell. Sometimes coverage will take away things and maybe we will see some big plays from Caldwell this week. Secondly the injury to Harvin has slowed his progress, if he is healthy this week he should be a difference maker. Look for Mullen to gradually work Jarred Fayson into Harvin's reps in case the sprain lingers or resurfaces.
The other thing we have not seen a lot of the last couple of weeks is the option shovel pass. Not sure if Alabama's front is good enough to load this back into the playbook or if the injury to Harvin is the reason they have stayed away from this but expect that play back for sure against LSU and Auburn. Overall the offense has played well in large part to the team MVP which is the offensive line. The biggest surprise has been Carlton Medder at right tackle who has really given the unit a boost. Ronnie Wilson will be back and ready giving UF some depth at the group.
Gator Offensive Statistic: UF has averaged 5.14 yards per play on first down this season.
The Gators must out-rush each opponent in the next four games to win. Alabama is not as good defensively as they were a year ago, giving up 4 yard per carry on the ground. Bama does have defensive coordinator Joe Kines who will twist and scheme up ways to get to the quarterback, especially from the middle of the line. Look for UF to continue to move Chris Leak around in the pocket 5-10 times a game to give him throwing lanes and create easy pitches and catches. This works better when the Gators run the ball effectively.
Wynn has emerged to be the player I thought he could be, but he must protect the football. Kestahn Moore ran with great purpose last week and showed me a burst I had not seen out of him this season. The key down is the same as it is in every big game and UF must win first down against Kines and the Alabama defense. When Florida throws the ball the offensive line must identify their blocks against Bama's 3-3-5 look. Bama will line up with four down lineman and try to put a guy one on one with the center. This will allow linbackers to run free on blitzes in the middle. If UF can solve this in the pass protection game they will be able to have some success.
Gator Defensive Statistic: The defense has given up only one run over 20 yards this season. The secondary has given up just two passes over 25 yards this season.
Defensively the Gators are having a mini-makeover with Marcus Thomas out of the lineup. UF is eighth in the country in total defense and did register six sacks a week ago. It was however a sloppy performance by their standards and one in which no champion grades were awarded. Tony Joiner and Jarvis Moss played well in my opinion but the Gators must cut down on defensive penalties that extend drives. Alabama is a ball control team and you don't want to give them an extra opportunity. Ray McDonald gambled too much last week and while you can do that with Thomas eating up two gaps you cannot do that when you're the two gap guy. Steven Harris started last week but did not get the production we saw last season. Harris did miss all of spring and may be working himself back into mid season form.
UF's corners need to tighten up their technique as they have had some mental breakdowns that could cost them against quality opponents. One example is versus Tennessee, Ryan Smith was in man coverage but he did not take away the inside like he should against Jayson Swain. The Vol receiver moved freely through the blitzing defense to catch a shallow cross and take it to the one yard line. The Gators won the game but Smith and Reggie Lewis are the perceived "weak links" of the defense and will get tested every week.
Alabama Statistic: Balance for the Tide as Bama has 40 rushing first downs and 39 passing first downs.
Alabama is a 65 percent run team on first and second down . They will throw on third down but they are only 50-50 in that situation. Coach Mike Shula likes a ball control offense that moves the chains. If they can set you up with the run they will go down the field on a play action pass. The key this week is whether Bama goes against their four game trend and does what Southern Miss, Tennessee and Kentucky did with mild success against the Gators. They all implored quick passing games and spread out the Gator defense to create some seams and get rid of the ball before the blitz got there. If Bama runs the same plan as the last four weeks they will lose. They gave up 5 sacks to Arkansas and the Gators minus Marcus Thomas are still considerably better than the Razorbacks up front. Keith Brown and D.J. Hall look like more accomplished receivers this season and John Parker Wilson looks very good to be so young. He was very poised in Arkansas last weekend and I left that game impressed with his arm and his demeanor.
Urban Meyer Stat: With the fourth quarter win over Tennessee, Meyer improved to 4-8 in games when he trails after three quarters.
The Gators will feed off the emotion of revenge, home field and the fact that this is the marquee game of the week. UF will move the ball on Alabama on the ground in this game which will be key in controlling the clock. Bama does have eight interceptions on the season and will gamble on some of Chris Leak's passes. Dan Mullen has coached to win this season and not to survive. He has dictated tempo and gotten UF ready each and every week. I think you see another step in the evolution of a young coordinator making a name for himself. Last season Joe Kines took Mullen behind the woodshed but this season will be different. UF's defense must harass the young quarterback Wilson and get him uncomfortable early. If Florida protects the football and runs the football Florida wins. Turnovers and becoming one dimensional will allow the Tide to hang around and steal the game. This is second consecutive game in the SEC on the road for Bama and they have not won the second of that duo since 1994 in conference play. I expect big things from Percy Harvin if he is healthy but look for UF to get it done this week with Baker, Caldwell,Wynn and Leak. On the other side this is a big game for Brandon Siler and he will be challenged. I expect Brandon Siler and Reggie Nelson to show up big with Jarvis Moss getting multiple sacks on Wilson. Florida wins 27-13.
Key Statisitic: Under Mike Shula the magic number for opponents is 27 points. Since 2003 Alabama gives up an average of 27 points in games in which it loses.
X-Factors: Going in to the Tennessee game we said DeShawn Wynn would be the key factor and I think he once again is the X-Factor. McFadden and Jones rushed for 177 last week against the Bama defense. Florida is averaging 175 yards rushing per game could get that and more out of Wynn, Moore, Tebow and Harvin, Florida will win.
Final Statistic: I had to throw this one in there because it may go out the window this week. Alabama has been playing football since 1892 and has never lost a game that was played on September 30. They are 14-0-1.
Check out College Kickoff on Sun Sports Friday Night at 5:30pm and 10:00 p.m. Also check out our special one hour pre game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the Post Game following the conclusion on Sun Sports. Enjoy our coverage this weekend with Whit Watson, Terry Norvelle, David Steele, Nat Moore, Steve Babik, Todd Lewis and me. The Brady Ackerman Show can be heard on 900AM Ocala/1230AM Gainesville ESPN Radio Monday through Friday from 7-10 a.m.