Gators Pit Speed vs. 'Bama's Power in Title Game

By: John Zenor (AP)
By: John Zenor (AP)

(AP) — Don't get caught up in a race with those Florida Gators, who can dart to the edges and wave goodbye if a defender doesn't react awfully quick.

Then again, it might not be a good idea to try to go toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama, which can pound teams into the ground with massive front lines and hard-nosed tailbacks.

Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game shapes up as a classic showdown: Speed vs. Power. Although neither team is ready to concede the edge in either category.

"They have a lot of speed," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "They have probably three or four players that are unique space players in terms of speed and quickness. They have some good runners. They have a lot of speed. They have a lot of speed on defense.

"I think we have pretty good team speed."

Alabama (12-0) just doesn't have an arsenal of offensive speedsters like Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

Then again, this is football, not a foot race.

Though on the Georgia Dome turf, both teams could look speedier than they already are.

"It's not just guys running fast, it's guys blocking and the team you're playing," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "I am very eager to have those guys get up there. And that's going to be a fast track, but the team we're playing is going to be fast as well."

Both the speed and power games have been produced stellar results for the Tide and Gators.

Alabama's Glen Coffee has rushed for 1,235 yards and nine touchdowns behind Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy finalist Andre Smith and his cohorts.

Florida (11-1) has Rainey, Demps and Harvin — all averaging at least 8 yards per carry. The Gators, in fact, lead the SEC in rushing and have run for 40 touchdowns; 'Bama is second and has 30 TDs on the ground.

It looks like a made-for-TV match.

"This is the most intriguing matchup I've ever done and basically it's because of the styles," gushed Gary Danielson, who will help call the game for CBS. "This is Frazier versus Ali. This is ugly versus pretty. This is new versus old. This is spread out versus tight."

Meyer said Alabama has the most physical offensive line the Gators have seen the last few years. The Tide has rushed for 200-plus yards six times and fell 2 yards shy of that mark in a seventh game.

"I think the offensive line is very good, but we're going to have to find a way to get an extra defender in the box like most people do defending the run," Meyer said. "We're going to have to have a little movement up front so they can't just tee off on you with their size. That's my worst fear. That's a big part of it."

Some of Alabama's biggest runs have come up the middle. There's not even that much finesse in the passing game, led by 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver Julio Jones and the tight ends.

"They're not really secretive about what they're trying to do," Meyer said. "They're going to try to pound you and they have the personnel to do it. It's not so much the running game, it's the personnel behind that run game. No, we've not faced anything like that this year."

Florida will play the game without injured defensive linemen Brandon Antwine and Matt Patchan, potentially making the task of stopping coffee and company even more difficult.

But while the Gators are fast, that doesn't mean they won't be a challenge for an Alabama defensive line that features nearly 400-pound nose tackle and run stuffer Terrence Cody.

"They have a direct run power game that is probably as good as anybody we played against all year," Saban said. "To control the line of scrimmage is going to be a really critical factor in this game."

Florida's biggest man in the running game just happens to be quarterback Tim Tebow, who has run for 12 touchdowns. Tebow says the Gators are hardly just a finesse team.

"I think they're a powerful team, but I think we've got a little power, too," he said. "I'm looking forward to the matchup. People are always going to think of us as a spread team with speed. We're not too bad in the short-yardage stuff, either."


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