Florida's Foes: Alabama Crimson Tide

By Brett Kaplan

This is a matchup that’s been a pretty heated rivalry over the past two decades. Alabama is a university with a lot of tradition and pride, especially when it comes to football games. Since the SEC Championship game has been instituted in 1992, the Gators and Crimson Tide have played each other seven times, including the inaugural championship game in ’92. In fact, Florida is the only team Alabama has played in the SEC Championship. There’s been a lot of great matchups that have meant a lot to both teams involving these two schools. This season is no different. Florida finds out what their made of this week with one of the best teams in the country coming to The Swamp. Alabama has played some tough schools with Penn State in Happy Valley and Arkansas at home, and handled them easily. But this will be the biggest test, with the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium being unlike anything they’ve faced so far. Florida’s speedy backs and dominating front seven are also unlike anything the Tide has faced so far this season.

This game also has an interesting story line with the coaches. Florida head coach Will Muschamp has publicly stated that he would not be where he is today, at the top of one of the best collegiate coaching positions in the nation, if it weren’t for current Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Saban hired Muschamp as his linebackers coach in 2001 when he was with LSU. Muschamp rose up to the defensive coordinator position the very next year and by 2003, Saban and Muschamp had won a BCS National Championship with the Bayou Bengals. In 2004 when Saban left the Tigers to coach in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, he brought Muschamp with him. Muschamp experienced a ton of success under Saban in both the collegiate ranks and the NFL and it will be interesting to see how the history of these two head coaches effects the the game. Both of these coaches know each other inside and out and the Gators and Crimson Tide mirror each other in philosophy, something that’s most likely not coincidental given their backgrounds.

The University of Alabama was founded in 1831 in Tuscaloosa, AL. Many people, including myself, have wondered why Alabama’s nickname is the Crimson Tide and their mascot is an elephant. Well, here’s the story. In 1907 they were playing in a torrential downpour in the Iron Bowl against their bitter rival Auburn Tigers. At the end of the game, the Alabama offensive line’s jerseys were were stained red from the wet dirt and one sportswriter coined the nickname “Crimson Tide” after Alabama fought hard to tie heavily favored Auburn. The Alabama’s elephant mascot comes from a quote a sportswriter heard from a fan after the first team ran onto the field:

“Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!”

Thus far, the mascot has stuck. A student wore an elephant head costume that prompted the athletic department to officially use the elephant as their mascot. it’s debut occurred at the 1979 Sugar Bowl, when Alabama beat Penn State for the National Championship. Students had the opportunity to name the new elephant mascot, and Big AL is what stuck.

The Crimson Tide are under 5th year head coach Nick Saban, who has a record of 44-11 at Alabama, with one BCS National Championship and one SEC Championship. The Tide have an overall record of 802-319-43 with 13 national championship and 22 SEC Champsionships. Alabama played their first football season in 1892. Despite a rich football tradition, the Tide have only one Heisman Trophy winner in recently departed running back Mark Ingram. The Crimson Tide are 4-0 coming into this clash with the Gators, beating Kent State, Penn State, North Texas, and Arkansas along the way.

Alabama’s offense is based heavily on the run game. They have a stud running back, and Heisman contender, in Trent Richardson. Richardson has been carrying the load, rushing for 441 yards on 67 carries and eight touchdowns. Richardson has also been a key asset out of the backfield, catching nine balls for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Eddie Lacey comes into the game to give Richardson a breather, and he’s been pretty good in his role. He’s rushed 41 times for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide are breaking in a new quarterback in A.J. McCarron. McCarron has hit 66.3% of his passes for 779 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. The quarterback position for Alabama is basically there to manage the game. McCarron has done a pretty good job at doing that, letting his workhorse running backs to the heavy lifting. Alabama does have a solid wide receiver in Marquis Maze, who has 20 receptions for 226 yards and one touchdown on the season. One glaring flaw for the Crimson Tide offense is they can be prone to turn the ball over. Against Kent State and North Texas, they were negative-seven on the turnover differential. However against Penn State and Arkansas, they were plus-five, not turning the ball over at all. This could be a case where the second teamers come in and make mistakes after the game is way out of hand, but it doesn’t bode well to be negative-two in the turnover differential on the season. The Crimson Tide offense is averaging 456 total yards a game, and 38.5 points a game, both in the top 30 in the nation.

What can you say about the defense hasn’t already been said. They’re defense could probably compete against an NFL team today. It’s that good. The defense has forced 3 and outs on 27 of their opponents 56 possessions. This defense is led by linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron. Hightower has 25 tackles, including four-and-a-half for loss and Barron has 22 tackles, two pass breakups, and two interceptions. Hightower and Barron may be the leaders, but there is certainly a ton more talent on this defense. A possible weakness in this defense is LB C.J. Mosely, who had a interception returned for a touchdown last week against Arkansas, will miss the game due to injury. On the season, this swarming defense is allowing only 184 total yards per game, with opponents only averaging 45.8 yards rushing per game. They are also averaging giving up a stingy 8 points per game defensively.

On paper, these teams are almost identical. They both have great run defenses and superb running games with Florida holding the edge. This game is most likely going to be a low scoring affair with both offenses stuggling. To reach a high score, the defenses are going to have to score some points. Alabama’s defense hasn’t faced the speed of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps coming out of the backfield. Florida’s defense hasn’t faced a dominant player such as Trent Richardson or a defense that can hold a candle to this Crimson Tide defense. When the tide are on, they can compete with anyone in the nation. Some people may see this as blatant homerism, but in a game where points are at a premium, homefield advantage and special teams could be the edge.

Final Score:
Florida 17, Alabama 14

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