Quincy Wilson (RCB)/Teez Tabor (LCB) vs. ArDarius Stewart (WR)/Calvin Ridley (WR)
Since the Gators lost former first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III to the NFL, Teez (formerly known as Jalen) Tabor has been the most talked about member of the Gators’ secondary. However, it has been Tabor’s running mate Quincy Wilson that has become the secondary’s X-factor in Gainesville. There are still draft analyst who haven’t quite bought the hype on Wilson yet, but make no mistake, he is a talented player that can cause problems for opposing offensive coordinators.
The first thing that stands out about Wilson is his size. According to Florida’s official roster, he is listed at an impressive 6’1 213lbs. That is the type of length you look for in a cornerback, but there is a lot more to Wilson’s game than just his size.
Wilson shows the ability to get in a receiver’s face and play physical, man coverage or play off the ball in what is considered “off coverage”. He also moves well for a guy his size, and he has shown above average instincts to make plays on the ball. Simply put, Wilson’s presence has eliminated half the field for opposing quarterbacks in some situations this season which makes the rest of the defense’s job a lot easier.
People can expect Wilson to see a lot of action against Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, who some would say has suffered from a sophomore slump this season. While Ridley’s production is somewhat down compared to last year — 57.0 ypg in ’16 compared to 69.7 in ’15 — he has already tied his career high in touchdowns (7) with potentially three games left this season. Another point to take into consideration is Jalen Hurts’ lack of efficiency pushing the ball downfield, and how that has also had a negative impact on Ridley’s production. This makes it hard for the “sophomore slump” argument to have much validity at this point. Seeing Ridley mix it up against Wilson should be fun to watch.
Now, the other Florida cornerback that Alabama fans should look for is the previously mentioned Teez Tabor. Like with Wilson, Tabor is a talented, developing cornerback — one who many project to go in the first-round of the upcoming draft. He isn’t quite as impressive as Wilson physically, but he has been blessed with decent size (6’0 201lbs). When looking at Tabor’s tape, there is little doubt that his ball skills are elite, but that doesn’t mean his game doesn’t have major holes in it. Teams have shown that Tabor can be exploited in deep coverage, and that is exactly how Alabama should attack him on Saturday.
ArDarius Stewart has been a proven threat from anywhere on the field this season. Whether its a shovel pass that he takes for a 67-yard touchdown against Mississippi State, a five-yard out that he takes for a 38-yard touchdown against Auburn or a 39-yard touchdown reception getting deep against USC, Stewart’s ability to be a consistent scoring threat has been crucial to the Alabama offense’s success. With the Gators typically deploying Tabor at left cornerback in most situations, expect him to go head-to-head against Stewart — who lines up on the right side in most offensive formations — a significant portion of the time on Saturday.
Caleb Brantley (DT) vs. Ross Pierschbacher (LG)/Korren Kirven (RG)
Caleb Brantley has been one of the most underrated defenders in college football this season. Florida lines Brantley up as their three-technique defensive tackle, and he has truly been a difference-maker since being inserted into the starting lineup during the 2015 season. He is stout against the run — displaying superb hand usage that allows him to shock and separate with force — and is somewhat effective as a pass rusher. Brantley isn’t the most explosive three-technique when it comes to his burst, but he plays with impressive technique and solid snap anticipation which makes him a problem for opposing offensive linemen.
Brantley will be going against second-year starter Ross Pierschbacher and former offensive tackle Korren Kirven — now starting at right guard. The Alabama offensive line really struggled against Auburn’s front-seven in the Iron Bowl, but Pierschbacher still managed to play a decent game. According to Pro Football Focus, he posted a grade of 71.3 which was the second best for the Crimson Tide’s offensive line behind starting left tackle Cam Robinson (74.1).
Kirven, on the other hand, really struggled against Auburn. He had suffered a shoulder injury against UT-Chattanooga, so it’s unknown how much that effected his performance, but he will need to play a lot better on Saturday if Alabama wants to move the ball consistently against an impressive (though banged up) Florida defense. While I expect Brantley to give both Kirven and Pierschbacher trouble in the run game, I suspect that he will only be able to exploit Kirven as a pass protector.
Alabama has fielded one of the best pass protecting offensive lines in college football this season, and Pierschbacher has been a major reason for that. He is talented guard prospect who has a balanced skill set that should transition nicely to the NFL someday. Kirven is definitely the weak-link along the offensive line, and Florida will try to use Brantley’s talent to take advantage of that.
Advantage: Caleb Brantley
Predictions for the Game
As you can see from the two key match-ups, the more appealing storyline for the game will be the Crimson Tide’s offense versus the Gators’ defense. There has been a lot of speculation that this could be Lane Kiffin’s last game as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. If that is true, he will almost certainly want to go out with a bang. Florida’s talented duo at cornerback will make things difficult for Hurts and the Alabama passing game on Saturday, but with the amount of injuries on Florida’s defense, Alabama should find some success.
This game sets up perfectly for Alabama’s run game. Brantley has been an effective run-stopper this season, but Florida’s unit as a whole really struggled to stop the run against Florida State this past weekend. The Seminoles ran for an impressive 478 yards (7.6 yards per carry) against the Gators, and it just seems as though the injuries have taken their toll. Like in a lot of other games so far this season, expect Lane Kiffin to attack the perimeter early and often to start the game. Once the Gators’ defense starts to wear out, don’t be surprised to see the Tide’s running game start ripping off some major runs up the gut.
This game also seems like the perfect set up for Alabama’s star tight end O.J. Howard. With injuries to Florida’s linebackers and safety Marcus Maye, he should have plenty of opportunities to get open versus backup defenders. In addition, Kiffin could try to protect Hurts from making a mistake versus Florida’s cornerbacks. The most likely beneficiary of that strategy would be Howard.
Score: Alabama 27, Florida 6