September 25, 2006

Tide looking for fourth straight win over UF

What: Alabama (3-1, 1-1 in SEC) at No. 5 Florida (4-0, 2-0 in SEC)
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla.
When: September 30, 2006
Time/TV: 2:35 p.m. CT/CBS
Series record: Alabama leads, 20-12. The Crimson Tide has won three straight.
Last meeting: Oct. 1, 2005: Alabama 31, Florida 3

About Florida
Head Coach: The Gators have posted a 13-3 mark in Urban Meyer's 16 games as head coach. In five-plus seasons as a head coach (two each at Bowling Green and Utah before taking over at UF), Meyer's teams have compiled a 52-11 record, including a 31-2 mark in home games. In his second seasons at Bowling Green and Utah, Meyer's teams posted 9-3 and 12-0 records, respectively.
2005 by the numbers: Scoring offense: 30.8 ppg (2nd in SEC); Pass offense: 289.8 ypg (1st in SEC); Rush offense: 175.8 ypg (3rd in SEC); Total offense: 465.5 ypg (1st in SEC); Scoring defense: 8.5 ppg (4th in SEC); Pass defense: 187.2 ypg (8th in SEC); Rush defense: 42.0 ypg (1st in SEC); Total defense: 229.2 ypg (2nd in SEC).

How Florida's offense operates: Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen combines with Meyer to direct the Gators spread-option attack. While quarterback Chris Leak excels in the passing game, he isn't much of a factor when running the option. The Gators will come out in three- and four-wide receiver sets, with Leak looking to get the ball quickly to wide receivers Dallas Baker, Jermalle Cornelius, Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell. The Gators' base running play is the zone read, which involves Leak either giving to the tailback (DeShawn Wynn or Kestahn Moore) or keeping and running.

Florida's best offensive player: Leak, who is on pace to take home All-SEC honors, was booed by Gator fans in UF's win over Kentucky. Despite growing sentiment to the contrary, Leak will indeed start against Alabama on Saturday. For those Florida fans clamoring for true freshman Tim Tebow to take over, Leak's 1,066 passing yards and 12 touchdowns will have to suffice.

Greatest area of strength for the Florida offense: UF receivers have scored 11 of the Gators' 18 touchdowns this season. UF features an impressive mix of size (Baker) and speed (Harvin) on the outside.

When the Gators run the ball they will call on: Wynn has posted back-to-back 100-yard games. He's averaging 5.2 yards per carry and appears to be running with authority, something that hasn't always been the case during his UF career. Tebow is the Gators' second-leading rusher, averaging 7.2 yards per carry on 23 totes. His 29-yard run against Kentucky last week is the longest by a Gator through four games. Behind Wynn sits Moore, who has rushed for 140 yards on 25 carries. Look for multiple reverses to Harvin, who has been hobbled by a high ankle sprain, and Jarrod Fayson.

These are the guys Leak will look to throw to: Baker's 24 catches and 406 receiving yards lead the Gators in both categories. The same can be said of his four touchdown receptions. Baker caught six passes for 119 yards in last season's loss at Alabama. Cornelius has emerged as a big-play threat, pulling in 10 passes for 206 yards (20.6 ypc) and three scores. While Caldwell's 11 catches are second to Baker, he hasn't shown the burst he was known for before going down with a broken leg against Tennessee in 2005.

Where's the weakness on offense?: I'll go with the Gators' offensive line, but that has more to do with inexperience than the way those guys have played during the early part of the season. Despite returning just one starter up front, pass protection has been better compared to a year ago (when UF surrendered 35 sacks) and the Gators currently rank third in the SEC in rushing offense.

How Florida's defense operates: Under the guidance of co-coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong, the Gators base out of a 4-3 alignment and -- like most defenses these days -- bring zone blitz pressure. Unlike Arkansas, UF doesn't play true man coverage on the outside. Florida's corners will show press, but this is more of a cover three scheme.

Florida's best defensive player: If not for his suspension, I'd go with defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. But given the uncertainty of Thomas' status for Alabama, middle linebacker Brandon Siler is the choice here. Siler is second on the team in total tackles (23) and leads the way in tackles for loss (four).

Greatest area of strength for the Gator defense: Led by Siler and weakside linebacker Earl Everett, the Gator front seven is very good against the run. Florida has given up just one rushing touchdown this season and opponents are averaging 1.8 yards per carry.

Where's the weakness on defense?: Other than safety Reggie Nelson, Florida's secondary is fairly pedestrian. The front four helped out last week by getting pressure on Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, which allowed the Gators to drop seven defenders into coverage.

Kickin' it up a notch: After converting 16-of-19 field goal attempts in 2005, placekicker Chris Hetland has attempted just two field goals in four games, missing from 51 and 47 yards against Tennessee two weeks ago. Hetland had two PATs blocked in the win over Kentucky. Eric Wilbur, a four-year starter who averaged 41.7 yards per punt as a junior, enters the week with a net average of 41.5 yards on 11 punts. True freshman Brandon James is a 5-foot-7 water bug who averages 10.7 yards per punt return.

Odds and ends: In 14 red zone trips this season, Florida has scored 11 touchdowns… For the second week in a row, Alabama will hold a decisive edge in turnover margin. Florida sits at -3, while Alabama ranks first in the SEC at +7…In being flagged 36 times for 251 yards, UF leads the SEC in penalties…Florida leads the SEC in third down conversions (27-of-46, 58.7 percent)...Alabama has a 9-1 mark against UF in games played in the state of Florida. Two of UA's seven wins came in Jacksonville (1916 and 1950)…As part of an ongoing celebration marking 100 years of Florida football, the Gators will wear throwback uniforms against Alabama.

2006 Schedule
9/2/06 Southern Mississippi (W, 34-7)
9/9/06 Central Florida (W, 42-0)
9/16/06 at Tennessee (W, 21-20)
9/23/06 Kentucky (W, 26-7)
9/30/06 Alabama 2:35 p.m. CT/CBS
10/7/06 LSU TBA
10/14/06 at Auburn TBA
10/28/06 Georgia# 3:30 p.m. ET/CBS
11/4/06 at Vanderbilt TBA
11/11/06 South Carolina TBA
11/18/06 Western Carolina TBA
11/25/06 at Florida State TBA

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