This one is on the offense.
For 12 games, Florida’s defense has dominated. The Gators have suffocated top-notch run games, stifled quality passing attacks and had a knack for big plays in big moments.
The unit deserves a helping hand Saturday against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
During that same stretch, UF’s offense has been almost entirely underwhelming. Sure, there were 40-point outbursts against Kentucky and Georgia, and yes, Florida State’s defense made everything look A-OK.
Maybe it is, or maybe it’s not. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for Saturday to see just how much the offense has grown during the year. It’s hard to judge a unit when it can literally do next-to-nothing and win because of an out-of-this-world defense and a great punter.
The numbers have gotten better, but is that a true sign of development? I’m just not so sure.
It’d be ludicrous for me to suggest that the offense is going to carry the defense Saturday. That simply won’t happen. A terrible game by the defense would result in a loss to Alabama nearly 100 percent of the time.
Thankfully for the Gators, the odds of that happening are close to zero.
But Charlie Strong’s defense might not be able to give UF the overwhelming advantage it has all season.
This SEC Championship Game is going to feature two great defenses going against one another with the loser being the first one to blink.
The Crimson Tide feature two running backs – Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram and freshman Trent Richardson – who Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney called future NFL players.
Ingram did struggle against Auburn last week, finishing with just 30 rushing yards on 16 carries, but Richardson has become quite a nice compliment in the late part of the season.
Florida has been hurt by the run a few times this season, giving up 117 yards on the ground to Tennessee and 133 in the near-loss to Arkansas.
The unit has had a knack for coming alive in big moments, however, and I expect nothing less in what will be the best game of the college football season to date.
Two undefeated teams have never met in the SEC Championship Game, now in its 18th year. College GameDay will be on hand, and for once, it’ll be quite a mystery what mascot head Lee Corso is going to put on.
It’s a near-guarantee that Florida’s defense will come ready to play, but Tim Tebow is going to have to lead his team down the field for a few iconic drives just like last year if the Gators are going to win.
Few have mentioned this week that Percy Harvin didn’t play in this game a year ago, so offensively, UF is only down Louis Murphy. Riley Cooper caught the game-clinching touchdown an inch off the ground last year in Atlanta. Jeff Demps scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run.
Rainey and Demps have to be bigger factors this year. Rainey was hurt the last time, and Demps finished with 53 yards on 14 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per carry. That might not get it done this time. Not if UF’s passing game hasn’t fixed all its kinks.
Aaron Hernandez will have to continue to be a playmaker. Alabama allowed a few devastating shovel passes to Hernandez last year on key plays. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again, but Tebow will need Hernandez to get free down the field.
Of course, no discussion of the offense is complete without mentioning Tebow. He led two fourth-quarter drives to win last year, and those 15 minutes of football are still mentioned often. He will probably have to pull some kind of heroics again.
Then again, I learned long ago not to doubt Tebow. He gave the world his promise and 22 games later, he hasn’t walked off the field a loser since.
For him to keep that going Saturday, it will have to be his offense that makes the difference.