Gator Gameday: Alabama at Florida storylines include who'll respond in the SEC Championship rematch

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen prepares to lead the Gators out on the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa against USF last Saturday.

Things to watch in Florida’s SEC opener against Alabama.

The storylines

1. Saturday’s top-10 showdown between the Gators and Tide will be a rematch of the 2020 SEC Championship Game. Florida fell short by six points, 52-46, in the highest-scoring title game in league history. UF went blow-for-blow with the eventual national champions and even pitched a shutout in the third quarter. This week Florida players said the loss motivated them throughout the offseason, knowing they would get another crack at the Crimson Tide this fall. 

2. Both quarterbacks from last year’s title game are now in the NFL. The Gators have replaced Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask with a two-quarterback rotation of Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. The health of Richardson and production of Jones will be under a microscope. Richardson injured his hamstring against USF, but practiced all week and is expected to play today. Jones has thrown four picks in two games and must take care of the ball against Alabama. 

3. Sophomore Bryce Young has taken over at quarterback for Davey O’Brien Award winner Mac Jones, now a rookie starter for the New England Patriots. Young was Alabama's highest-rated quarterback recruit of the modern recruiting era. He leads the SEC with seven touchdown passes through two games with 571 yards and no picks. However, this is his first road start and the Gators, who’ve led the league in sacks the past two years, will be the toughest team he’s played. 

4. Florida coach Dan Mullen is going for his first career win vs. Alabama’s Nick Saban. He beat Saban in 2008 as UF’s offensive coordinator, but is winless against him as a head coach (0-10 overall, 0-1 at UF). Mullen has lost three one-score games against Saban, two during his Mississippi State tenure (25-20 in 2014, 31-24 in 2017) and last year with Florida. If his team wins Saturday, Mullen would become the first coach in program history to defeat a top-ranked opponent at home. 

5. Today’s game will be just the fifth time in UF history where the nation’s No. 1-ranked team visits The Swamp. The Gators previously hosted LSU (1959), Florida State twice (1993 and 1999) and Miami (2012), losing all four matchups. Florida has faced four top-ranked Tide teams in the series history, beating them in the 2008 SEC Championship Game and losing twice in Atlanta (2016 and 2020) and once in Tuscaloosa (2010). Alabama was ranked No. 3 when it last visited Gainesville in 2011.  

More:Mullen, Gators going for first win over Alabama since Meyer era

Today's game questions

1. Can Emory Jones play well and avoid turnovers against Alabama? 

2. Does Anthony Richardson’s hamstring injury hold him back at all? 

3. Will Florida eclipse 300 yards rushing for the third consecutive game? 

4. How does Alabama QB Bryce Young perform in his first road start? 

5. Can UF hold the Tide under 30 points for the first time since 2018? 

Click back Sunday for Abolverdi's answers.

More:Whitley: UF can afford to lose to Alabama, but not by much

How to watch: No. 9 Florida Gators football vs. No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on TV, live stream

Key matchup 

Florida’s ground game vs. Alabama’s rushing defense:

The Gators have the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense through two weeks, running for 400 yards in their opener and 363 against USF last Saturday. Richardson leads all FBS quarterbacks with 275 rushing yards, though he could be limited Saturday with his hamstring injury. The Tide are always stout against the run and their rushing defense ranks 22nd nationally through two weeks, allowing just 77.5 yards per game. However, Miami and Mercer don’t have horses in their backfield like Florida. Will Alabama be able to stuff the Gators on the ground, or will Jones, Richardson and their bevy of backs run wild again?