Five burning questions about the SEC Championship game:
1. What impact will the loss of DE Carlos Dunlap have on Florida? There are two levels of concern if you’re Florida. No. 1 is the fact that you just lost a first round draft choice for the biggest game of the year. Dunlap, the defensive MVP of the BCS championship game last January, was tied for team lead in sacks at seven. He’s a great player. The second impact is just the mental distraction. The other players on that team, who have been busting their butts since February, see one of their key guys do a stupid, selfish thing. It has to be disheartening. This is where really good coaches earn their money.
2. Was it a surprise to see Urban Meyer let Dunlap go so quickly? Not at all. Meyer learned an important lesson from his handling of the Brandon Spikes suspension, which was roundly criticized in the media. That was a one-day story that turned into a five-day story because it wasn’t properly handled. Meyer knew he couldn’t let questions about Dunlap’s status dominate the conversation this week. The break had to be quick and clean.
3. What is Nick Saban telling his guys this week? It goes something like this: “Fellas, we pride ourselves on playing a complete football game. We didn’t do that against Florida last year. We played great for three quarters and then they beat us in the fourth quarter. And if we don’t take control of the fourth quarter on Saturday we’re going to get beat again.” Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News points out that only one coach, Steve Spurrier, has ever beaten Saban in consecutive meetings. That’s because Saban pays great attention to detail, especially when he loses.
4. What is Urban Meyer telling his guys this week? It goes something like this: “Fellas, we are the defending national champions. We have won 22 straight football games in the toughest conference in college football. And there are STILL people out there who don’t think you’re that good. Well, Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock we’re going to show them how good we really are.”
5. Is this Alabama team better than the one that played Florida a year ago? Yes and I think it is significantly better. The offensive line may not be quite as good but the line last season was one of the best that Alabama has ever had. This offensive line had to replace three starters and has improved as the season went along. This team can do more things on offense, like put Mark Ingram into the Wildcat formation. Defensively, despite the loss of linebacker Dont’a Hightower, this has been one of the best units at Alabama since the national championship defense of 1992. After losing to Florida last December, Saban knew he was going to have to have a different kind of team to beat the Gators should they meet again. He has basically been getting ready for this game for 11 months.
What is the key stat that nobody is talking about? I think it’s the fact that Florida has given up 28 quarterback sacks this season. Florida won the game a year ago because Tim Tebow had time to make big throw after big throw with the game on the line. Alabama’s pass rush this season has been better. Alabama has 31 quarterback sacks in 12 games. The Crimson Tide had 26 sacks in 14 games last season. Florida is going to have to throw the ball to win. It appears Tebow will have less time to throw than he did a year ago. It’s just something to keep in mind.
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