By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ANALYSIS: Muschamp Has Defied Underdog Role
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Never underestimate the power of a good first impression.
For first-year Florida head coach Will Muschamp, it could be said that the first impression he made on Alabama head coach Nick Saban, when Muschamp was hired to the LSU staff in 2001 has helped pave Muschamp’s road to Gainesville.
“Sometimes you just meet somebody and you really get a good feel for them,” Saban said. “Will was just a really good person, really genuine. You could tell that he was hard working and had a special intensity about him in terms of what he wanted to do. You could tell that he was hard working and had a special intensity about him in terms of what he wanted to do. You could see his passion for football and how important it was to him. That first impression really held true in this case and it’s pretty obvious based on the career he’s had and what he’s done so far as a head coach that all of those things are correct.”
When the 4-0 Gators meet the 4-0 Crimson Tide on Saturday at 8:10 p.m. ET on CBS, it will be the first meeting between pupil and mentor with Muschamp as a head coach. Alabama leads the all-time series between the two squads 22-14 and Florida will be looking for its first victory against the Tide since 2008.
“I have got great respect for Nick and the job he does,” Muschamp said. “I probably wouldn’t be standing here today if not for the opportunity he gave me at LSU to be a position coach and then naming me the coordinator. Philosophically, we’re on the same page defensively as far as what we want from an identity standpoint. The guy does a great job of managing his program from top to bottom, and I’ve got great respect for him. When you turn the film on, you see a physically tough football team that plays with fundamentals. That’s what he is and that’s what he preaches every day.”
The series has become quite the rivalry over the past several years as, in both 2008 and 2009, the two schools played for the Southeastern Conference Championship in a match-up with No. 1 vs. No. 2. The winner of that game – Florida in 2008 and Alabama in 2009 – went on to claim the BCS National Championship.
“I think this is the biggest challenge we’ve had all year which also makes it the greatest opportunity for our team in terms of them playing a really good Florida team that has played really well in the first four games,” Saban said. “Will has done a great job there from just a discipline, execution, technique standpoint. His guys are playing hard. We’re certainly going to have to match that intensity on the road and get the kind of execution that we need and play smart so that we give ourselves a chance to play winning football. This is going to be a real test and a real challenge for us.”
Both teams place added emphasis on their defensive prowess, as both rank in the top-five nationally in scoring defense, rush defense and total defense.
“You’ve got to be multiple against Alabama,” Muschamp said. “You’re not going to be one dimensional and have success. You’ve got to be balanced in what you do in both the run and the pass and be efficient in both areas.”
While the storyline surrounding the familiarity of the two head coaches and the similarities in their defensive schemes plays a central part in the game, Muschamp says that the only possible advantage in Saturday’s contest will be Florida’s home-field edge.
“There is no advantage,” Muschamp said. “He knows me as well as I know him, so there is no advantage in this game. But thank goodness for the 90,000 people and the millions watching. He [Saban] or I will not be taking a snap Saturday night.”
Alabama and Florida meet for the 37th time in the history of the two programs with the Crimson Tide leading the all-time series 22-14, including a 7-2 mark when the game is played in Gainesville. Alabama has won each of the last two meetings, including a 2009 SEC Championship game tilt. In the last 10 meetings between the two schools, each program has won five times. The Gators’ last win in the series was a 31-20 victory in the 2008 SEC Championship game.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
2005 – No. 15 Alabama 31, No. 5 Florida 3 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
2006 – No. 5 Florida 28, Alabama 13 (Gainesville, Fla.)
2008 – No. 1 Florida 31, No. 1 Alabama 20 (Atlanta, Ga. – SEC Championship Game)
2009 – No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 1 Florida 13 (Atlanta, Ga. – SEC Championship Game)
2010 – No. 1 Alabama 31, No. 7 Florida 6 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
No. 1 Alabama scored 21 points off of four Florida turnovers, holding the No. 7 Gators without a touchdown for the first time in 61 games, to post a 31-6 victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Sophomore tailback Trent Richardson ran for 63 yards on 10 carries while junior tailback Mark Ingram accounted for 47 yards on 12 carries and two scores to lead the way for the Crimson Tide. Florida recorded 279 total yards to Alabama’s 273, but the Gators’ four turnovers and seven penalties proved costly in the loss. The Alabama victory ended Florida’s streak of 24 regular-season wins, 16 SEC wins and 13 consecutive road wins.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Alabama – Trent Richardson, Jr., RB
Richardson rushed for a game-high 126 yards on 17 carries last weekend against Arkansas, marking his third consecutive 100-yard game, and also caught three passes for a game-best 85 yards. He currently ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 110.2. In just four games in 2011, Richardson has found the end zone nine times.
Florida – Chris Rainey, Sr., RB
Rainey logged his fifth career 100-yard rushing game and third consecutive such performance against Kentucky last Saturday, reaching 2,000 career rushing yards in that contest. He currently ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing with 102.8 yards per game, and is second in the league with all-purpose yards per game at 170.2. Earlier this year, against UAB, Rainey became the first player in UF history to record a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Alabama – Dont’a Hightower, Jr., LB
Hightower is his team’s most experienced starter, starting a squad-best 33 career games and earning distinction as a team captain. He currently averages 6.2 tackles per game, which is tops on his team. has 158 career tackles with 12.0 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries. Hightower leads the team in 2011 with 25 tackles in four games with a career-best 4.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Florida – Jon Bostic, Jr., LB
Bostic leads Florida with 26 tackles, including 4.0 tackles for loss and 31 yards for loss. He currently ranks 14th in the SEC by averaging 6.5 tackles per game. He has led the Gators in sacks in two consecutive games, including a career-high 10 stops in the team’s last outing at Kentucky. Bostic has tied or set career highs in tackles in each of his last two outings.
· Florida has outscored its opponents 54-3 in the first quarter and 96-20 in the first half of games this season. The Gators have scored on their opening drive in each of their first three games in 2011.
· Alabama has won 40 games dating back to the start of the 2008 season, which is the second most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Crimson Tide won 12 games in 2008, followed by a perfect 14-0 record in 2009 and a 10-3 mark in 2010.
· The Gators rushed for 405 yards at Kentucky, the highest rushing total in a game for any SEC team this season and the seventh-best output in a single game among all FBS teams. It was the second-highest rushing total in school history against an SEC opponent (454 vs. Vanderbilt, 1975).
· The Alabama defense is only allowing an average of 184 yards per game entering this week’s game, which ranks third nationally and leads the SEC. The Tide is also surrendering only 2.82 yards per play, which leads the nation.
· Florida is tied for fifth in the country by allowing 56.5 rushing yards per game and is the only team that has yet to allow a rushing TD this season. UF is tied for fourth in the nation in scoring defense (9.0 ppg) and fifth in the nation in total defense (231.8 yards per game).
· Alabama’s win over Penn State on September 10, continued a trend of road success by the Crimson Tide in recent seasons. Including the win over the Nittany Lions, Alabama has a 12-2 mark in true road games since 2008.