Florida (2-0) at (3) Alabama (3-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Traditional SEC heavyweights square off on Saturday afternoon, as the Florida Gators hit the road to challenge the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Both teams come in undefeated, with Florida having taken down Eastern Michigan (65-0) and league rival Kentucky (36-30, 3 OT), both at home. The Gators' season opener against Idaho was ruled no contest after being suspended for inclement weather. UF is idle for the first time next week, and will return to action on Oct. 4 when it battles Tennessee in Knoxville.
As for Alabama, it opened the 2014 campaign in Atlanta with a 33-23 win over West Virginia, then had an easier time of it in routs of visiting Florida Atlantic (41-0) and Southern Miss (52-12). The Crimson Tide will enjoy their first bye of the season next week as well, and then will play their first true road game when they visit Ole Miss on Oct. 4.
Alabama has won the last three meetings with Florida to take a 22-14 series advantage. The Gators' last victory in Tuscaloosa was a 16-10 verdict back in 1998.
While the competition level certainly wasn't the same as it will face this week, Florida has had very little trouble imposing its will on both sides of the ball in the first two games. The Gators are averaging 50.5 ppg, while churning out nearly 600 ypg (593.5). They have been equally effective in both modes of attack (248.5 ypg rushing, 345.5 ypg passing),
Jeff Driskell has been an efficient field general, completing 63.6 percent of his passes with four touchdowns against only one interception. Demarcus Robinson is clearly his favorite target, as the sophomore wideout has logged 21 receptions for 339 yards and three scores.
The Gators have a pair of 100-yard rushers in Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, and the duo has accounted for four of the team's five rushing TDs. Overall, UF runners are averaging 5.6 ypc.
The effort on defense has been just as impressive, as the first two opponents have combined for only 30 points while generating an average of 287.5 ypg. Florida has been especially stingy against the run (80.5 ypg), and it has yet to allow a rushing score.
A total of four players have recorded double-digit tackles on the season, with Neiron Ball, Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor tied for the team lead (11). Ball has two of the Gators' five sacks, while Keanu Neal already has a pair of picks, both of which came last week against the Wildcats.
Florida beat Kentucky for the 28th straight year, which is the longest active winning streak in an annual series, although it was anything but a cakewalk.
Florida tallied 532 yards, but permitted 450. The Gators once again stood their ground against the run (81 net yards), but allowed 369 yards and three scores via the pass. Third-down conversions were an issue for UF, as it moved the chains on just 5-of-17 chances. It did however, score on all seven trips to the red zone, including four TDs, while Kentucky did so on both of its visits, settling for field goals each time.
Robinson was a beast in the passing game, logging 15 catches for 216 yards and two scores, as Driskell went 25-of-43 for 295 yards, three TDs and one INT. Jones spearheaded the rushing attack with 156 yards, and scored the game- winning TD in the third extra session. It was only the fourth time in school history that Florida had a 200-yard receiver and 100-yard rusher in the same game.
Morrison paced the UF defense with 10 stops.
While obviously pleased with the effort put forth by his team to this point, Florida head coach Will Muschamp spoke earlier this week about the task ahead.
"I've got a lot of respect for Nick (Saban). I probably wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for the opportunities he gave me early in my career and he's an outstanding football coach."
He continued, "They've got a good football team. We're looking forward to going to Tuscaloosa for the opportunity."
Alabama's offensive output is predicated on balance, as the team averages 270.3 ypg on the ground and 298.0 ypg through the air. The result being a rock-solid 42.0 ppg. The Tide have scored two-thirds of their offensive touchdowns (15) by running the football, with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry serving as the leading rushers. Both players are over 200 yards, while Kenyan Drake has found the end zone a club-best four times.
Quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker have combined to complete 71.6 percent of their passes, with the former being especially efficient (.750). Sims has thrown four TD passes, and like Florida's Robinson, 'Bama wideout Amari Cooper has been a monster is logging 33 catches for 454 yards and a pair of scores.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide have dominated the opposition to the tune of 11.7 points and 267 yards allowed per contest. Foes have found it particularly tough to move the ball on the ground, doing so for a total of 141 yards (47.0 ypg) while failing to score that way.
Landon Collins has been a man possessed for the UA defense, more than doubling the production of his closest teammates by coming up with 27 tackles (two others have 11). A pair of players (Xzavier Dickson and Ryan Anderson) have two sacks each. The Tide have only come up with one turnover in three games (fumble recovery), so being more opportunistic will be paramount to the unit achieving an even greater level of success moving forward.
Alabama will be without the services of starting free safety Nick Perry for the first half of this contest, after he was ejected in the second half of last week's game against Southern Miss for targeting (helmet-to-helmet contact with a player who did not have the ball). Veteran defensive back Jarrick Williams is expected to miss the game as he recovers from a broken foot.
Cooper matched the school record with his fifth consecutive 100-yard receiving game in last week's whipping of Southern Miss, finishing with eight grabs for 135 yards and a TD. Sims had a pair of scoring strikes, going 12-of-17 for 168 yards, while Yeldon paced the ground attack with 73 yards on 11 carries. Drake scored three of the team's five rushing TDs, and six guys in all tallied at least 39 yards.
Sims spoke after the game about what it means to have such an outstanding player in Cooper at his disposal.
"It's always good to know that you have a guy that's going to run for you. It really helps when everyone focuses on him you have other receivers to throw to. (Amari) Cooper does it very well, and he is great team player. He gives extra effort all the time and it's good to have him and know that you always have someone open."
The Golden Eagles found little breathing room on the ground last week, amassing only 56 yards on 18 totes. They had more success through the air (207 yards), but averaged only 5.6 yards per pass attempt. Collins was credited with a dozen tackles, while Dickson tallied two pass breakups. Souther Miss was just 3-of-13 on third down, while Alabama converted 7-of-11 opportunities.
Florida certainly has plenty of athletic talent, but the Gators are a few years removed from being a true power in the SEC. Alabama is loaded for bear once again, and the Tide should be able to control the action enough to give the hometown faithful yet another reason to smile.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 31, Florida 17