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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Before you start cleaning your grill and marinating your steak in preparation for Saturday’s showdown, take a step back.

Actually take about 11 steps back. Seems a little far, doesn’t it?

That amount of steps you just took is the same amount of starters the Gators lost in the offseason.

Fans see the game against Alabama as redemption for last year’s SEC Championship loss, but it’s far from it. It can’t be considered redemption if it’s an entirely different team beating the Crimson Tide.

Almost all of the key players on the team that lost to Alabama last season are now playing on Sundays for NFL squads.

The personnel, the play-calling and the team leaders have all changed since Florida’s embarrassing performance against Alabama on Dec. 5.

Which is exactly why expectations should be tempered.

What used to be a Tim Tebow-led offense is now a Mike Pouncey-led offense. What used to be a Brandon Spikes-led defense is now a Justin Trattou-led defense.

Fans are witnessing a new chapter in Gators football, and it’s unfair to refuse to turn the page on the old chapter, telling this team to take care of last season’s unfinished business.

It’s like expecting an ex-heavyweight champion who lost 60 pounds to step in the ring and not miss a beat.

That’s not possible.

The Gators’ matchup against the Crimson Tide is merely part of the process of regaining the weight they lost in the offseason.

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A win is not the end-all-be-all for Florida.

Instead, this is what you should be looking for in Saturday’s game.

Can the Gators establish a passing game early? Quarterback John Brantley came into the Kentucky matchup averaging just 5.72 yards per pass attempt, but he showed he could throw the ball downfield Saturday.

With Demps unlikely to be 100 percent because of a foot injury, the Gators should try to take advantage of an inexperienced Crimson Tide secondary, which surrendered 357 passing yards last week against Arkansas.

If offensive coordinator Steve Addazio can dial up some pass plays to involve some of the receivers, it will be a good sign for UF.

What will Burton’s role be this week? You better believe coach Nick Saban has Alabama well-versed on Trey Burton’s every move and tendency after the freshman’s six-touchdown game.

Burton may not turn in a repeat performance, but Florida could definitely plug him in to grab the attention of the Crimson Tide defense to open other things up in the offense.

Don’t be surprised if coach Urban Meyer uses him at quarterback in situations other than the red zone this week because of the attention he will garner.

Can the defense continue to force turnovers at this pace? The Gators have forced 14 turnovers, with 12 off interceptions, in four games this season.

The school record for most picks in a season is 26, and the Florida defense is on pace to smash it.

Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy has already thrown three interceptions this year. It will be key for the defense to pressure him into more mistakes Saturday.

If fans won’t be satisfied unless the Gators win — fine. But sometimes you need to take a step (or 11) back to look at the bigger picture.

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