Five priorities to turn the Tide
Published: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.
No. 1 Alabama is favored by almost double digits (nine points) in Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa. The Florida Gators haven’t been this big of an underdog since Ron Zook was the head coach. And Urban Meyer has not been this big an underdog since his first game as a head coach at Bowling Green in 2001. Pulling out a victory would be considered a pretty big upset, but the Gators will go into the game with a plan to win (like they’ve done in every game under Meyer). Veteran football beat writer Robbie Andreu offers up five things the Gators need to do to win Saturday night’s game:
Florida at Alabama
When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
On TV: CBS
Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
1. Win first down
During Florida’s early season struggles on offense, the Gators found themselves in too many second-and-12 situations. They have to stay out of those or they’ll end up going nowhere (except maybe backward). If the Gators mix things up between the run and the pass on first down and consistently put themselves in second-and-5 or less, the offense will have a chance to sustain drives against the tough Tide defense. Conversely, if the Florida defense hopes to get the Alabama offense off the field, the Gators need to put the Tide in a lot of second-and-eight situations. That means really ganging up on the run and making those first-down runs tough on tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. If the Gators can win first down on both sides of the ball, their chances of winning increase dramatically.
2. Wrap ’em up, bring ’em down
The Gators were a really good tackling team last season — until the SEC Championship game, where the Tide turned all kinds of missed tackles into big plays that contributed to the 32-13 rout. Granted, Ingram and Richardson are big, strong backs who are hard to get on the ground (especially with just one defender), but UF has to find a way to wrap them up and knock them down. This has to be a defensive priority after what happened in last season’s game in Atlanta. Had the Gators tackled better in that game, the outcome might have been different. Tackle, tackle, tackle. That will be UF’s defensive focus Saturday night.
3. Be patient, resilient
Playing against the No. 1 team in the nation in a hostile environment, some bad stuff is going to happen, maybe early in the game. How the Gators react to (and handle) adversity will be crucial. They have to remain patient, confident, and eventually find a way to make a play or go on a drive to swing momentum back in their favor. The Gators did not do a very good job of this the last time they were in Tuscaloosa, in 2005. Things went bad early — and stayed bad in a 31-3 rout. UF was 4-0 heading into that game, too, and ranked No. 5. Bama was No. 15.
4. Spread it around
The Gators came out against Kentucky last Saturday night and spread the ball around to multiple playmakers, including some of the young receivers. The result was the best offensive performance of the season, by far. Over the past three or four years, the UF offense has been its most productive when numerous playmakers have been involved. It creates more options and puts more pressure on opposing defenses. Alabama’s defense is tough to crack, so the Gators need to try and attack it with every playmaker they’ve got.
5. Special play on special teams
Nothing silences a crowd (and impacts momentum) like a big play on special teams. Remember how silent The Swamp went Saturday night when Kentucky scored a touchdown on a fake field goal late in the first half. The Gators need to produce something big on special teams — a blocked punt or field goal, a fake punt or a big return. They have a history of these kind of plays under Urban Meyer. Since 2005, UF has blocked 29 kicks (18 punts, eight field goals and three extra points), the most in the nation over that period. UF also is eight-for-eight in fake punts. Usually, when the Gators block a punt, they win the game. A blocked punt Saturday night could be huge — and game turning.
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