For the second straight year, the Alabama Crimson Tide will meet the Florida Gators in Atlanta for the 2016 SEC Championship as the stakes for both teams look to be similar to last season.
The Crimson Tide are on the verge of entering the game as an undefeated juggernaut with an opportunity to move on to the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed. On the other hand, Florida once again boasts a strong record, but the Gators could fall victim to another late-season slide.
Here is a look at the schedule for the title game as well as some predictions for what could unfold on the field between the two division champions.
Expect a Low-Scoring Affair
These two programs are certainly familiar with each other. Not only was Jim McElwain a former offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, but these two schools have met more than any other pair in the SEC title game, per the SEC Network:
For an SEC Championship record 9th time, it’s Alabama-Florida in the championship
*The winner has gone on to win the national title 5 times pic.twitter.com/LOtpIHk7on
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 21, 2016
Defense has been a staple for these teams, which will make Dec. 3 quite the struggle for both offenses.
Alabama comes in at second nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 11.4 points per game. The Crimson Tide are also second nationally in total defense, as they give up 252.6 yards per contest. The team is absolutely stout with its dominant front seven and stingy habits. Ben Jones of the Tuscaloosa News notes that the unit creates as many touchdowns as it allows:
Alabama’s defense has allowed 12 touchdowns this year. The defense & special teams have combined to score 12 TDs of their own.
— Ben Jones (@BW_Jones) November 21, 2016
Florida is no slouch, either. The Gators are third nationally in scoring defense at 13 points per game while also ranking fifth in total defense with 282.4 yards allowed per outing.
However, Alabama has a distinct advantage offensively. The Gators have been held under 25 points in five of their last six games, which puts its defense in a tough spot in Atlanta.
Alabama has some explosiveness to it offensively, as quarterback Jalen Hurts can make plays with his arm and his legs. The Crimson Tide also boast several big-time weapons in the passing game, as the talented Florida secondary, led by Teez Tabor, will have its hands full with Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart.
The Crimson Tide are averaging 40.3 points per game compared to Florida’s 25.2. Yet the Gators have been tremendous in the red zone, as their defense leads the country by stopping opponents 34.6 percent of the time inside the 20-yard line.
This indicates that Florida can keep the game close with defensive stops and forced field goals. Both of these teams can seemingly stop the other, but can the Gators churn out enough offense to threaten the Crimson Tide? This season’s results seem to suggest that will not happen.
Can Florida Contain Hurts?
The X-factor for Alabama’s offense is the added dimension of Hurts being able to gash defenses with his legs, and he could have a slightly favorable matchup against Florida.
Hurts has made school history with his rushing ability, per Alabama’s official Twitter account:
ICYMI, Jalen Hurts is now the Alabama single-season leader in rushing yards by a quarterback with 803! #RollTide pic.twitter.com/KSzE2qj0Gg
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) November 22, 2016
A dual-threat quarterback is the one challenge Florida’s defense has not successfully met this season. Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs was the only legitimate running threat the Gators faced behind center, and he was able to pick up 80 yards and a touchdown. Florida State’s Deondre Francois is also a solid rusher, but the Gators’ success against him is yet to be seen.
To say Florida has not had to deal much with running quarterbacks might be an understatement. Other than Dobbs and Francois, the rest of the quarterbacks who started against the Gators this season have combined for just 23 yards and seven touchdowns.
This could cause problems for a Florida defense that prefers to play man coverage with its excellent corners, which could leave its linebackers in one-on-one situations with the dynamic Hurts.
The freshman becomes stronger as the game goes on, which was evident by the 114 yards he picked up to push his team past LSU. We will know a little bit more about how Florida handles athletic quarterbacks after it plays Florida State, but the Gators need linebacker Jarrad Davis to come up with a huge game, or else Hurts will torch the Gators.
All statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.