The Gators will look to spring a monster upset on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp
No. 11 Florida enters its Week 3 showdown against top-ranked Alabama as 15.5-point underdogs, per Caesars Sportsbook. At home. In The Swamp. Yes, the Crimson Tide sit atop the mountain as the kings of college football, but being a double-digit home dog is unfamiliar territory for Dan Mullen’s Gators.
What’s more familiar? Big moments in Gainesville, and it doesn’t get much bigger than this. Saturday’s SEC on CBS Game of the Week is the perfect opportunity to remind the world that Mullen is absolutely the rising star many expected him to be at a blue-blood institution like Florida.
Above all else, Mullen is an offensive guru, but this will be a huge challenge. Veteran starting quarterback Emory Jones has been erratic and careless with the football. Hotshot newcomer Anthony Richardson has proven to be a big-play weapon on the ground, but he’s hampered by a hamstring injury. That puts Mullen’s team in a difficult spot before the game even kicks off.
Still, this game is not being played on paper. Florida is capable of springing the upset. Here’s how.
Making the right QB choice
Mullen has been mum about who will start under center, though he’s been consistent in how he’s used his two QBs. Jones started the first two games against FAU and South Florida, paving the way for Richardson to come off the bench on the third drive. The decision is trickier now, though. Jones has four picks to just two passing touchdowns, but Richardson, the more explosive runner, is nursing the injury he sustained against the Bulls in Week 2.
Make no mistake: Richardson should be QB1 if he’s healthy enough to go since he’s taken better care of the football. That’s going to matter more now that the Gators are playing Alabama instead of a couple of outmatched Group of Five opponents. Still, history appears to be playing a role in Mullen’s decision-making. Jones was Mullen’s first major recruiting target when he got the gig in Gainesville prior to the 2018 season, so it’s not surprising to see the more experienced player get the benefit of the doubt.
Still, Mullen has to nail this decision. It won’t be based on the ground game, either. Regardless of who starts, that player has to be able to stretch the field in order to take some pressure off of the running game. Both signal-callers can run, but neither will do it effectively if they can’t keep the Tide’s safeties away from creeping up to the line of scrimmage.
‘Third-and-Grantham’ has to work
Todd Grantham’s reputation as a defensive coordinator is to bring the heat with a flamethrower in critical passing situations. He’d bring 15 players if the officials would let him. That all-or-nothing philosophy typically results in either big negative plays … or it backfires spectacularly. That second outcome can’t happen. Pressure has to get home against first-year starting quarterback Bryce Young if Florida is to have a chance.
Young has been money on the move, though, so even if Grantham is able to flush him out of the pocket, he can still make the Gators pay. The flip side is that Alabama has allowed 15 tackles for loss in two games. Only Missouri has been worse among SEC teams. The possibility for Florida to do some damage is there, but Grantham has to bring pressure in a way that prevents Young from keeping his eyes downfield.
Red zone touchdowns
They say defense doesn’t win championships anymore, “just enough” defense does. Someone apparently forgot to tell Alabama. The Tide haven’t allowed a red zone touchdown in their first two games and led the SEC in that same category last season (51.28%). That was a big — but perhaps under-appreciated, given that team’s offensive success — reason it ran the table and won the national title.
Florida can’t settle for field goals. Doing so is a killer against Alabama, especially now that it’s established itself as an offensive powerhouse. The Gators have converted five of their eight red-zone trips into touchdowns this season, so they’ve been successful in that department despite their quarterback concerns.
That success will have to continue. If Young takes the field on every drive in his first true road game as the starter knowing he has to take back momentum, that’s a built-in advantage for the Gators and their raucous home crowd.