The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: A pair of FBS heavyweights collide in Tuscaloosa this weekend, as top-ranked Alabama plays host to seventh-ranked Florida at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
There is no rest for the weary in the SEC and the defending national champs know that better than anyone. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide opened SEC play last week on the road and were given all they could handle from nationally-ranked Arkansas, before posting a 24-20 victory to move to 4-0 on the year. It marked the 28th straight regular season win for Alabama, which also puts a 16-game win streak at home on the line in this one.
Saban has a tremendous amount of respect for Urban Meyer and the Florida program.
"Florida is an outstanding team. They probably have a record of dominance, more than any team in our league, over what they've done in the last few years under Urban Meyer, who is an outstanding coach and does a great job with them. They've got a lot of team speed. They've got good players at all the skill positions. They've got a good offensive line. Defensively they're very active, run well, have a lot of team speed and they play outstanding on special teams. This is as good of an all-around team as we've played all year."
Meyer's team is no stranger to lengthy win streaks, as the Gators have won 24 straight regular-season affairs, including 13 consecutive on the road. Florida (4-0) made light work of Kentucky last weekend (48-14) to move to 2-0 in conference play.
Alabama holds a 21-14 edge in the all-time series with Florida, but just a 6-5 advantage in Tuscaloosa. These two teams have met in each of the last two SEC Championship Games, with the winner going on to capture the national title (Florida in 2008 and Alabama in 2009).
The Gators are coming off their highest scoring output of the season, ringing up 48 points on Kentucky. A lot of that came from freshman Trey Burton, who had five carries for 40 yards and five touchdowns, while adding a sixth score on five receptions. With the effort, Burton set the school-record for TDs in a single game.
With the overall outburst, Florida is now putting up a steady 37.8 ppg, despite averaging a rather modest 354.5 yards of total offense. The offense has seemed a little out of sync at times, but for the most part, QB Johnathan Brantley has played well, connecting on 64 percent of his passes, for 700 yards, with six TDs and just one INT. Deonte Thompson has clearly been the top option down the field, as he leads the team in receptions (18) and receiving yards (248).
Still, Florida likes to run the football and has a solid ground game (169.0 ypg), led by junior tailback Jeff Demps (6.9 ypc, two TDs). Burton is the backup QB, but with his output last weekend he now has seven TDs on just 11 carries.
The defensive effort has been solid for the most part in Gainesville this season, as Florida is holding foes under 300 yards per game (295.5 ypg). The rush defense has been particularly good (94.0 ypg), yielding just 3.4 yards per carry. This big play unit already has a dozen interceptions on the year, with three players tied for the team-lead with three picks. All-American candidate Ahmad Black is one of them. The senior safety leads the team in tackles as well with 30 stops. Freshman LB Jelani Jenkins is next in line with 23 tackles. Sophomore LB Jonathan Bostic (22 stops) also has three picks to his credit, as does sophomore DB Jeremy Brown (seven tackles).
Coach Meyer knows what this game represents.
"We have a lot of respect for their personnel. This will be one of these great environments in the SEC we get to play in."
Quarterback Greg McElroy threw a pair of interceptions, but Heisman winner Mark Ingram made up for the errors by rushing for 157 yards and two touchdowns, keeping top-ranked Alabama undefeated on the year and atop the polls once again. Ingram missed the first two games of the season, but has made up for lost time, rumbling for 308 yards and four TDs in the last two outings. With Ingram and super sophomore Trent Richardson (356 yards, four TDs) leading the way, Alabama is averaging a gaudy 244 yards per game on the ground.
McElroy's numbers on the year are still impressive, with the savvy signal- caller connecting on 70.9 percent of his throws, for 899 yards, with seven TDs and three INTs. All-American candidate Julio Jones is the go-to-guy in the passing game, leading the team in receptions (20), receiving yards (303) and TD catches (two).
A lot of the faces have changed on the defensive side of the football for Alabama, and although the team was gashed by Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett last weekend (357 yards, three TDs), the team is still holding foes under 300 yards of offense overall (295.2). Despite the turnover in personnel, there is still plenty left on the defensive side of the ball in Tuscaloosa. Junior Mark Barron (team-high two tackles, one sack, one INT, one forced fumble) and sophomore Robert Lester (17 tackles, four INTs, one fumble recovery) highlight the play in the secondary. Sophomore Dont'a Hightower (team-high 20 tackles) is the leader in the linebacking corps, while junior defensive end Marcell Dareus has returned to lineup to anchor things up front.