Dumb Dunlap Disappointing, Distracting

The SEC Championship Game had everything you could want. Two undefeated teams meeting in a sold out Georgia Dome with the entire college football world glued to its TV sets. It also now has something no one wanted, a key player likely missing the game for an off-the-field discretion.

Carlos Dunlap's DUI arrest early Tuesday morning is precisely the kind of thing Coach Urban Meyer and every other college coach warns players about on a regular basis. Don't drink and drive, and don't be out in the middle of the night. Nothing good ever happens between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m.

Without more details it's hard to be particularly judgmental about exactly what Dunlap did and why. That will change as the facts come out. But there's no question Florida's chances of making it 13-0 took a hit.

The immediate impact is in preparing for and matching up with the Crimson Tide. Florida's biggest, strongest defensive end and most explosive pass rusher had to be among ‘Bama's biggest concerns. With Dunlap assumed to be out of the picture this week Florida's challenge is figuring out the best way to adjust.

First, look for Justin Trattou to move into the starting lineup. The junior doesn't have Dunlap's size or speed, but he has a relentless motor. Trattou moving to that spot weakens Florida's "Joker" package up front, but against this offense it's hard to see Florida in that alignment very often anyway. If and when the Gators do go to "Joker" Duke Lemmens would likely fill Trattou's shoes in the middle.

Dunlap also leaves the Gators shorthanded overall. That puts more pressure on the Gator defense to create as many three-and-out series as possible. Alabama's strength is the power running game. One key for that is the cumulative affect of pounding on defenses with big backs and a big, physical line. Florida's ability to stand up to that has apparently taken a big hit.

The physical impact of losing Carlos Dunlap will be much more significant on the field than off. Florida is fortunate to have a conga line of mature, focused leaders on both sides of the ball and they will be able to handle the distraction this week. For a lesser group that would not be the case, but these guys beat an undefeated Alabama team without Percy Harvin a year ago so there's no reason for the them to question their ability to come through again. It's probably more upsetting, because Harvin was injured while Dunlap is the victim of a self-inflicted wound.

Still a challenging week for the Gators became a lot more challenging first thing Tuesday morning. But if Tim Tebow and company have proven anything it's that no challenge is too daunting.

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