Alabama football travels to Gainesville for SEC Championship rematch

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

The Alabama football team will travel to Gainesville on Sept. 18 to play against the Florida Gators in a rematch of the 2020 SEC Championship game. This game is the first true test of the season for the Crimson Tide. 

A lot has changed since the Crimson Tide defeated the Gators 52-46 in December. Both teams lost a host of players to the NFL, and both have new faces at the quarterback position. 

New Kids on the Block 

Former quarterbacks Mac Jones of Alabama and Kyle Trask of Florida were drafted to the NFL in April. This means that two — possibly three — new quarterbacks will take the reins. Sophomore Bryce Young is the new face of Alabama.

Young has shined in his first two starts for Alabama. In the season opener against Miami, he became the first quarterback in Alabama football history to throw four touchdowns in his first career start. Against Mercer, Young threw three more touchdowns. He is now the first quarterback in Alabama football history to throw seven touchdowns in his first two career starts.

For Young, the goal is simple. He must continue to show poise in his first true test of the season. He cannot afford many mistakes against this Florida defense. 

The pressure on Florida quarterbacks is a bit heavier. 

Redshirt junior Emory Jones will start against Alabama, according to head coach Dan Mullen. Jones struggled in his first two career starts; he has thrown four interceptions so far. His backup, Anthony Richardson, has impressed in his snaps for the Gators. The pressure to perform is mounting on Jones and will be crucial come Saturday. 

“Florida fans may riot if Jones struggles against the Tide, as there have already been a lot of calls for Richardson to start,” Michael Hull, football writer for The Independent Florida Alligator said. “Jones needs to have a strong performance Saturday to quiet the off-field noise.” 

It will be quite the task for Jones to prove himself against Alabama. One criticism of Jones is how uncomfortable he looks passing the ball. Against the University of South Florida, Jones struggled to read what the defense was doing. 

If that continues on Saturday, it will be a long day for Jones.

The Crimson Tide’s defense has been strong in the first two games. So far, Alabama has sacked the opposing quarterback seven times for a total loss of 37 yards. The defense has also intercepted the ball four times in the first two games.

That is, coincidentally, the same number of interceptions Jones has had himself this season. Jones must be able to read the field, get the ball out quickly and show a level of poise that he has not shown yet. 

If there were ever a time for both quarterbacks to show how they handle pressure, it is on Saturday. 

Defending the Field 

The defenses of both teams are facing offenses that can create explosive plays. Both defenses have given up explosive plays in previous games.

“Florida will not beat Bama with long drives down the field — the Tide is too talented to allow those — so UF needs to create some jump plays and limit turnovers to have a shot at winning,” Hull said.

“We all saw Bryce Young’s 94-yard touchdown against Miami in Week 1. Florida doesn’t have a chance if plays like that happen Saturday. The Gator defense is vulnerable, specifically on the back end. The unit needs to lock in after allowing 20 points to USF last week,” Hull added. 

The same could be said for the Crimson Tide. Last Saturday, the Alabama defense allowed 14 points to Mercer. Before that, Mercer had not scored a single point against Alabama in three matchups. Seven of those points were scored on a 61-yard reception by Mercer wide receiver Devron Harper.

Alabama’s secondary is not as vulnerable as Florida’s, but it cannot afford to give up big plays. This is even truer if Richardson plays a significant number of snaps on Saturday. 

In the first two games of the season, Richardson has shown to be more effective than Jones at creating explosive plays. Richardson has scored three touchdowns where the total yards of the play was 70 yards or longer this season.

Last week, he completed 100% of his passes for 162 yards. Richardson also had an 80-yard touchdown run

The Crimson Tide has done well this season limiting big plays. If they can force Florida to try to beat them with long drives, Alabama can have another good outing on defense. 

Bringing the Noise

Arguably, the biggest X-factor in Saturday’s matchup is the crowd. Throughout the first three weeks of the college football season, fans have packed stadiums. This is a sight welcomed by players and coaches alike after playing the 2020 season in front of limited or no fans. 

Alabama has benefited from playing in front of crowds made mostly of their fans. Saturday will be the first time the team will play in front of a split crowd. The Crimson Tide has struggled to stay focused. If the crowd can rattle Alabama early, it could help Florida keep the game close. 

“According to Dan Mullen, fans will play a huge role in the game,” Hull said. “He said at media availability Monday [that] The Swamp Saturday could be the best atmosphere in college football, and [Zachary] Carter mentioned how the defense feeds off that energy. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be rocking at the start of the game and could easily be a potential game-changer if the Gators stay in it.”

The Florida crowd has affected the outcome of games in the past. In the Gators’ 2019 matchup against Auburn, the crowd was electric in the 24-13 victory over the Tigers.

Alabama can’t give opposing fans anything to cheer for on Saturday. Players must not let the noise affect their rhythm on both sides of the ball. 

Should fans stay interested on Saturday, Alabama could very well be playing against 12 men. 

Saturday is the biggest test of the season so far for either team. This game may not be as explosive as the 2020 SEC Championship, but it should provide plenty of exciting moments for fans to enjoy. 

Kickoff for Saturday is at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on CBS.