Fast start is up for grabs

Percy Harvin runs for Florida's first touchdown against FSU on Saturday in Tallahassee.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, December 1, 2008 at 9:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 at 9:51 p.m.

Here's some advice for fans going to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Saturday: be in your seat and focused before kickoff. Because if you're a little late for this one, you could miss a whole lot.

When it comes to showing up ready to play, ready to make things happen in the critical early minutes, Alabama and Florida have few peers.

In big games, sometimes there's a tendency for teams to start a little slowly as they try to feel each other out. That probably won't be the case Saturday.

The Gators and Tide don't mess around when it comes to pouncing on the opposition and going for the early kill.

These two teams own the first quarter. Combined, they have outscored their opponents 283-30 this season.

The first-quarter dominance has given UF and Alabama early momentum and put them in the comfort zone that comes with playing with the lead.

"Sometimes, it takes the life out of the other team," Florida cornerback Joe Haden said.

That's kind of the way it's worked for the Gators during their eight-game winning streak. They've taken command of games with a flurry of first-quarter points and then cruised to one-sided victories. On the season, UF has won the first quarter 160-10.

"Immeasurable," said UF defensive line coach Dan McCarney, when asked how important the fast starts have been. "You just can't even put it into words. I've never been on a team or seen a team that's done it that consistently, to do it week after week after week.

"The kids expect it, they believe in it. They know it's important. They know it gives us a great chance to win games if we can get off to a real good start. It's one thing saying it and another thing doing it."

Florida has done it. So has Alabama, which has won the first quarter 123-20.

The Gators haven't trailed since the Ole Miss game Sept. 27. For the season, the Tide have been behind for only 23 minutes, 11 seconds, most of it coming during a 16-minute span in the LSU game.

"They've done a great job of that and so have we," McCarney said. "We have not been in a four-quarter game since the Mississippi game. In all likelihood, that's going to happen this week."

It's also likely Florida and Alabama both will be pushing hard to gain the early advantage because they know how big it can be.

"Momentum," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "It's unbelievable."

The Gators have owned the momentum and the lead for the last eight games.

So what if Alabama gets off to the quick start and UF suddenly finds itself in the come-from-behind mode.

"You go right back to preparation and character of the team and leadership of the team," McCarney said. "If we get in a hole, we have to find a way to get back out of it. We all have faith that our kids can do that."

Winning the first quarter is big. But it doesn't guarantee anything, Meyer and Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

"The important thing is you play every play in the game for 60 minutes," Saban said. "We've gotten ahead in some games and teams have come back on us. We've gotten ahead in some games and been able to maintain that lead.

"Obviously, you want to start well in everything that you do. But I think the most important thing is to be able to sustain a certain level of consistency throughout the game. That kind of consistency is most important."

The last time the Gators were in the SEC title game, they got off to a quick start and a comfortable early lead, but Arkansas rallied to take the lead and UF had to come from behind in the second half to pull out the victory.

A fast start might not guarantee anything Saturday.

"It's a 60-minute game," Meyer said. "A fast start is going to be critical, but it's not the only part. It's 60 minutes. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

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