video

Going into Saturday's SEC matchup, Florida has not won at Alabama in 16 years.

Dr. Lou's Week 4 Picks

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:24
PM ET


video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Saturday's top matchups.

Blake Sims Progressing

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
12:59
PM ET


video

Kaylee Hartung reports from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Crimson Tide are preparing for an SEC showdown with Florida.
video
Finally, the game is almost here.

For both Alabama and Florida, it's been a long time coming. The Crimson Tide breezed through the nonconference portion of their schedule to get here. The Gators missed their season-opener, gassed Eastern Michigan and survived Kentucky to reach its trip to Tuscaloosa undefeated and eager to prove that last season was a fluke.

What do we know about both teams so far? Not a lot. But that's what Saturday is for.

To get you prepared, we had SEC writers Jeff Barlis and Alex Scarborough assess the matchup.

Scarborough: Let's start with the pretty boys.

I could tell you Blake Sims is a changed man. I could tell you he's transformed overnight into a quarterback capable of carrying an offense against a good defense like Florida's. But I might be stretching the truth.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxThe challenge for Florida will be to keep Alabama's defensive line off Jeff Driskel.
Sims' numbers are impeccable -- 75 percent completion percentage, 215 passing yards per game, six total touchdowns, one interception -- but that's just the top layer. Dig deeper and you'll see that of Sims' 646 total yards passing, 454 of which has gone to one receiver. And that one receiver, Amari Cooper, has racked up 245 of those yards after the catch.

So what happens when Vernon Hargreaves III takes away those quick passes that have been so effective? What happens when Dante Fowler rushes off the edge? What happens when Sims gets in the weeds?

Frankly, I don't know.

But I do know this: I trust him more than I do Jeff Driskel.

Barlis: There's no doubt Driskel's performance against Kentucky undermined some of the optimism that had grown for him and for the Gators. He failed to recognize obvious blitzers, didn't run the ball when he needed to, didn't give his receivers a chance at catching the deep ball, and hesitated to hit an open Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown on what could have been a crushing mistake in overtime.

Driskel's numbers -- 25-of-43 passing for 295 yards, three touchdowns and an interception -- weren't bad, though, and he deserves credit for some key plays that helped Florida stave off a colossal upset.

I don't think anyone is expecting Driskel to brilliantly engineer an upset of his own this Saturday, but he can't afford the kind of big mistakes that have plagued him in the past. He just needs to be efficient, manage the game and give his team a chance.

It's not all on Driskel's shoulders. I think one of the biggest matchups of this game will be in the trenches when Florida has the ball. The Gators' offensive line has been a sore spot, particularly in pass protection, for the last couple of years.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) is out, and while senior right tackle Chaz Green is a capable fill-in, his understudy is Roderick Johnson, a redshirt freshman making his second start in the third game of his career. He's never seen anything like the No. 3 Tide and it's stable of defensive linemen.

Scarborough: That's an interesting point. Alabama's D-line has been solid so far, but hasn't lived up to the preseason hype yet. A'Shawn Robinson, the All-SEC tackle/end, has no sacks and only half a tackle for loss. He's got help rushing the passer with Ryan Anderson, Xavier Dickson and Jonathan Allen, but that group can't allow Driskel time in the pocket.

If that happens, watch out for Alabama's secondary. Nick Perry will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting, and Jarrick Williams isn't likely to play after fracturing his foot a few weeks ago. Those are two of the Tide's most veteran DBs.

Landon Collins is as solid as they come at safety, but he'll need help. Eddie Jackson's return has been a boon, but pay attention to rookie Tony Brown, whom Nick Saban said will play a lot on Saturday.

Still, my biggest question mark for Alabama isn't on defense. Setting aside Sims' play at quarterback, who is going to step up besides Cooper? O.J. Howard hasn't caught a pass all season and Christion Jones has dropped a few passes himself.

While there are a lot of talented tailbacks to turn to, I'll be interested to see how Alabama's receivers and Florida's defensive backs match up.

Barlis: I will, too. These are two of the best run defenses in the SEC if not the country. Although both teams are inexperienced in the defensive backfield, neither passing game has more than one scary playmaker -- Cooper for the Tide, and Robinson for the Gators.

It appears both defenses will be in a similar situation -- apply consistent pressure on the quarterback or else a vulnerable secondary could be exposed. Florida's D-line was strong in the first half against UK but fatigued in the second when Patrick Towles went off. That made the mistakes by young DBs even more glaring.

I say the matchup the matters most on Saturday is Florida's defensive line against Alabama's offensive line. The Gators desperately need someone other than Dante Fowler Jr. to emerge, but I'm not sure this is the game for that to happen. Bama has an outstanding line that has keyed a deadly efficient offense. The Tide have just two three-and-outs in 32 possessions this season.

The bottom line in what could very well be a defensive struggle is that both teams prefer to run the ball but probably won't be able to dominate the game that way. It'll be up to the passing attacks.

I'm not sure Florida is quite ready to play with enough tempo to affect Alabama's defense. So whichever line keeps its quarterback the cleanest will win this game, and it will be closer than many folks think.
video

A look at what makes Alabama's Amari Cooper such an outstanding talent, and Florida's big test against No. 3 Alabama. Could there be an upset brewing?

SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
AM ET
video
There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. The Florida at Alabama game should draw many top recruits, as will the LSU-Mississippi State game. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking official visits. Here is a closer look at some top expected visitors.

SEC morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
AM ET
1. A lot has been made of the matchup of Amari Cooper and Vernon Hargreaves III, and rightfully so. But there's a piece to the puzzle that seems to have gone overlooked in the buildup to Alabama-Florida this week: the play of the offensive line. This is the SEC after all, and there's a good chance the game comes down to who controls the line of scrimmage best. If Blake Sims and Jeff Driskel aren't protected, it won't matter how well they throw the football. Florida center Max Garcia said the line plans to combat Alabama's defensive front, "with heart." Though the Gator o-line lacks depth, it's full of experience with all five starters being upperclassmen. On the other side is Alabama, which has a true freshman starting at left tackle in Cam Robinson. He could be the key to the game. Though the former five-star prospect has played well this season, he hasn't played in a game of this magnitude yet, and he hasn't seen a group of edge rushers like Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard yet. If there was ever a game not to make a rookie mistake, it will be Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

2. Jalen Hurd got a nice pick-me-up after Tennessee lost on the road at Oklahoma. The former four-star recruit turned promising freshman tailback checked his phone after the 34-10 loss and saw a notification on Twitter. And look at who it was. No, Faux Pelini didn't strike again. Instead, it was former Ohio State and NFL star Eddie George showing Hurd some love on the twittersphere. George, like a lot of us, saw in Hurd a potential star. Time will tell how Hurd's career turns out, but for now he can revel in the praise of an idol. "That just makes me happy," Hurd said.



3. For the first time in a long time, South Carolina doesn't have a two-quarterback system to worry about. In fact, we might not even know who Dylan Thompson's backup is at this point. It might be Pharoh Cooper, if you look at the number snaps taken in games. On the depth chart, Connor Mitch and Perry Orth are both listed as No. 2. It's a matter of semantics, of course, but the larger point might be the fact that there isn't even a whiff of a QB controversy in Columbia. When's the last time we could say that? Spurrier hasn't been the least bit tempted to pull Thompson from the game, and it's a testament to how well the veteran quarterback has played. So far, Thompson has made his four-year wait worth it. The redshirt senior has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions, and is averaging just over 300 yards passing per game. If he keeps this up, he might soon be in the conversation of the SEC's best quarterbacks. His 82.1 QBR rating ranks fourth in the league.
video

Florida football coach Will Muschamp joined The Paul Finebaum Show to discuss the Gators' game against Alabama.
video

Recruiting reporters Erik McKinney, Damon Sayles, Derek Tyson and Tom VanHaaren join ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss some upcoming decisions for ESPN 300 recruits and a pair of five-star prospects who recently postponed their commitment date.

Florida Gators have talent to compete 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:00
PM ET
video
When Alabama and Florida square off on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), the two teams will display some of the top talent in the country. In fact, according to the expected two-deep depth charts, Alabama and Florida will showcase 56 players that were ranked in the ESPN 300 (changed from ESPN 150 to ESPN 300 in 2013) and the ESPN JC 300 coming out of high school or junior college.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier beamed when he sprang into his postgame press conference room Saturday evening. He had just watched his Gamecocks shock No. 6 Georgia -- the team picked by many to represent the SEC in the College Football Playoff after just one game -- 38-35 with a gutsy, yet controversial, call to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier again got the best of Georgia and showed that South Carolina will make noise in the SEC Eastern Division.
The Head Ball Coach, who was labeled "done" by some after an unconvincing 1-1 start that featured an epic beat down from Texas A&M, was smiling once again after besting his favorite SEC pinata -- Georgia.

Spurrier got his 16th win over Georgia -- the most by any coach over the Dawgs -- and his fourth out of the last five meetings. He and his team also showed that what we thought of South Carolina heading into last weekend wasn't exactly true. There are still issues with the Gamecocks, especially on defense, but we were quick to write off the very team picked in the preseason to win the SEC Eastern Division.

"This is a good one," Spurrier said of Saturday's win. "I knew we had a good chance to beat them when I heard [ESPN radio host Paul] Finebaum picked them [Georgia] to win by about 25 points. He picked Alabama to beat Oklahoma by 25 [in last season’s Allstate Sugar Bowl] too. I said, 'We gotta chance tonight then.'”

Yeah, all that negativity we showed the Gamecocks last week didn't go unnoticed in Columbia.

“I’m not going to lie and tell you that I wasn’t watching TV, seeing people say that Georgia was the No. 1 team, have them winning the playoff," South Carolina running back Mike Davis said. "Watching GameDay and seeing all those guys pick UGA, and having [ESPN college football analyst] Kirk [Herbstreit] being the only one who said we were going to win. This is a big confidence booster for our team.”

So South Carolina isn't dead, and it's clear that the SEC East is still very much wide open.

What else were we quick to assume about the SEC?

1. Jake Coker isn't ready: We all thought Coker would be Alabama's starting quarterback. Well, it's Florida week and veteran Blake Sims is very much the guy and has a big lead on Coker. Unlike Coker, Sims is limited with his arm, but he's done nothing to lose the starting job, while Coker has done nothing to take it.

2. Arkansas isn't the pushover it has been: We figured it'd be another ho-hum year for the Razorbacks. Then they challenged Auburn in the first half of their opener and literally ran over Nicholls State and Texas Tech with 933 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Arkansas looks like it can run on anyone.

3. Vanderbilt is in trouble: We thought the talent was still there for Vanderbilt to make another quality run under Derek Mason in his first year with the Commodores. Well, we aren't sure what's up, but the Commodores are lucky to be 1-2 at this point. After getting outscored 78-10 against Temple and Ole Miss, the Dores needed a last-second missed field goal to escape the UMass game.

4. Florida's defense has to climb back to elite status: We questioned Florida's offense, which still has concerns, but we didn't press the defense. Well, it turns out that there are actually real concerns with this younger unit. Coverage breakdowns fueled 369 Kentucky passing yards and three touchdowns. Also, can anyone besides Dante Fowler Jr. rush the passer?

5. Mississippi State's secondary has questions: It's early, but the Bulldogs have had issues in the back end of their defense. Through three games, the Bulldogs have allowed an average of 311.7 passing yards per game. Corner Taveze Calhoun, who garnered tons of preseason praise, and the guys around him at corner and safety have really underperformed to start the season.

6. Texas A&M is still pretty good: Wasn't this team supposed to take a few steps back without Johnny Manziel? Well, the Aggies didn't get the memo. Texas A&M upset South Carolina 52-28 to start the year, the defense looks better and quarterback Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 1,094 yards and has 11 touchdowns. I can't believe someone didn't think an A&M quarterback would throw for 3,000 yards this season ...

7. Kentucky can upset someone: If you watched any part of Florida's triple-overtime win over Kentucky, you'd know the Wildcats are better than they have been in years. Patrick Towles threw for almost 400 yards on the Gators with a handful of playmakers to use that this team hasn't had in a while. Also, that defense is much better with Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith battling for the top defensive end duo in the SEC.

8. Tennessee doesn't have a quarterback issue: We thought there was too much uncertainty surrounding Tennessee's quarterbacks. Well, we were wrong, as Justin Worley has been solid, making tremendous throws through the first two games. He struggled against Oklahoma but is averaging 240 yards per game and has six touchdown passes.

9. Missouri isn't ready to take a step back: We thought there were a lot of questions for Mizzou on both sides of the ball, and there still might be, but this team isn't ready to bow out in the SEC. The competition hasn't been great, but Mizzou has done exactly what's been asked, outscoring teams 125-52.

10. Leonard Fournette isn't Michael Jordan ... yet: We thought Fournette would have at least 1,000 rushing yards and, like, 20 touchdowns at this point. What a disappointment! It's a long season folks, but Fournette is still learning and has just 162 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be great, but we actually have to be patient with him.
Florida sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III's first collegiate interception felt easy from the start.

The Gators were in man coverage against Toledo last season and Hargreaves, in his first game no less, was playing press. Hargreaves was already close to receiver Alonzo Russell, so once his opponent started going into a post route, Hargreaves already had it in his mind that he was going to undercut his man and the route.

Quarterback Terrance Owens was finished before he even released the ball. Hargreaves jumped the route, making a controlled guess that sealed Owens' fate.

"As soon as I undercut it, the quarterback threw it to me," Hargreaves said.

video

It was the first of a handful of outstanding plays he would make in his debut season. Hargreaves, who led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended, earned All-American honors and entered the 2014 season labeled by many as the nation's best cornerback.

Through two games, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound phenom already leads the SEC with five passes defended.

His speed, instincts, vision and natural playing ability make him a feared cover man and ball hawk. Equipped with more experience and skills, Hargreaves could be even better this season. After two solid performances, he will get his greatest test to date on Saturday in Tuscaloosa: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.

"We knew this was coming," Hargreaves said of covering Cooper, who leads the nation with 33 receptions and is third overall with 454 yards. "He's excited. I'm excited. We both know the magnitude of the game and it's going to be a great matchup on Saturday.

"Everybody knows what's coming. Obviously I'm going to be covering him. I'm excited for it."

How exactly will he go about covering his toughest opponent yet? For Hargreaves, it's more instinctual than anything. He said he doesn't like to think too much on the field.

BEFORE THE SNAP

Hargreaves zeros in on opponents, trying quickly to recognize the offensive personnel. He counts the number of receivers, then shifts his focus back to the defensive call.

He concentrates on what his defense is doing, what the play is and what the calls are. Once the assignment is clear, his eyes move back to the receivers.

"Most teams nowadays don't really huddle, so you can't really get a lot of indicators when they break out of the huddle," Hargreaves said. "Really for me, it's the receivers."

Once the offense lines up, Hargreaves figures out his leverage. A receiver lining up really wide forces him to play with inside leverage. An inside receiver means outside leverage.

He plants his feet, balls firm, yet light enough for him to explode out of his stance and glide along the field. His hips are loose, making turning smooth in case the receiver pulls a move.

AFTER THE SNAP

"I understand what [receivers] might do and what they like to do, but other than that, I'm not out there trying to guess routes," Hargreaves said. "It's just all instincts . . . You can't really play off what they might do. You react to what they do do."

His feet are as quick -- if not quicker -- than most of the receivers he covers. His hands snap into position and his arms push as fast as his legs churn, pulling him stride-for-stride with his opponent.

"He's very instinctive, he's fast, quick," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "But I think probably his greatest asset besides having great ability is he's a very instinctive player."

BALL IN FLIGHT

What's impressive -- and for opponents quite frustrating -- is how Hargreaves plays with his back turned. He relies on his technique and trusts his instincts. If a receiver gets behind him, Hargreaves stays patient. He doesn't panic because he knows he has time.

Hargreaves' eyes shift to the receiver's eyes, which are planted on the ball. Once their hands go up, the ball is close, meaning it's time for Hargreaves to pounce.

"It's something you can work on, you certainly can enhance, but the guy really has a lot of poise with his back to the football," Florida coach Will Muschamp said.

video

Hargreaves is still young and learning. His brain is still dissecting new information about players and formations each time he sits down for his film sessions during the week.

"Most of my decisions are calculated," Hargreaves said. "I understand the situation, I understand what's going on in the game."

He'll have to be as calculated as ever against the nation's best Saturday.

Kickoff Live: Week 4 (1 ET)

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
10:35
AM ET
ESPN.com reporters Ted Miller, Edward Aschoff and Heather Dinich join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the latest on Jameis Winston and preview the weekend slate of games.

SEC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM ET
Week 3 brought some serious action in the SEC, including Florida surviving triple overtime against Kentucky and Vanderbilt escaping against UMass. (And to think, Alex, everyone laughed when you picked the Minutemen.) With three high-profile games on the docket this week, let's get on with the picks.


Why Auburn wins big: Kansas State isn't going to be scared by Auburn's breakneck tempo -- the Wildcats see it against Baylor annually. The difference will come in that tempo combined with the strength and athleticism in Auburn's offensive line that powers the Tigers' running game. Look for the game to be close and competitive initially before the Tigers pull away in the fourth quarter as they wear down the Wildcats up front. Auburn 45, Kansas State 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Kansas State keeps it close: When was the last time the SEC ventured into the Midwest to play a Power 5 opponent? Exactly. It's just not done, and with good reason. Expect Kansas State to load the box and dare Auburn to pass. Nick Marshall hasn't thrown the ball all that well thus far, completing 56 percent of his passes for just 151 yards. Auburn 31, Kansas State 24 -- Alex Scarborough


Why LSU wins: LSU has won 14 in a row in this series, but that won’t matter on Saturday. The Tigers will beat Mississippi State again on Saturday because they are the better team -- and it doesn’t hurt that they’re playing at night at Tiger Stadium, a scenario in which they’re 43-3 under Les Miles. LSU 28, Mississippi State 14 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: How good is LSU? I watched the first half against Wisconsin and was less than impressed. I still don’t trust Anthony Jennings at quarterback. Meanwhile, Mississippi State comes in with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder, having not won in Death Valley since 1991, and Dak Prescott, a Louisiana native, gave the LSU defense fits in last year’s game. Mississippi State 24, LSU 21 -- Greg Ostendorf


Why Alabama wins big: After scoring just three points in the first half and needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky last week, there are some serious concerns for Florida heading into a tough environment at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's defensive line should create a miserable afternoon for Florida's offense, specifically quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama 36, Florida 16 -- Jeff Barlis

Why Florida keeps it close: After a triple-overtime win against Kentucky, people are down on the Gators. But despite last week's scare, Florida is better than it was last year. I can already hear the silly homer chants, and I'm sure Jeff is snickering at me, but if Florida's communication and pass protection hadn't been so bad last week, I'd be tempted to pick Florida in the upset. Notice that I said "tempted." I think you'll see a defensive struggle, but Alabama's running game will be too much and the Crimson Tide will pull away late. Alabama 24, Florida 13 -- Edward Aschoff

More unanimous picks:

Georgia over Troy: Now you can show off that passing game, Georgia. The Bulldogs won't need much of Todd Gurley, as the coaches look to get more out of Hutson Mason's arm. Georgia 51, Troy 10

Texas A&M over SMU: Kenny Trill adds to his flashy numbers and the defense continues to look better in a road rout that will leave Eric Dickerson looking to take a blowtorch to his former program. Texas A&M 65, SMU 13

Missouri over Indiana: These Tigers don't need -- or want -- respect, and they'll continue to quietly go about their business with another convincing victory that will just lead to more Mizzou fans yelling at that @AschoffESPN Twitter account. Missouri 45, Indiana 20

Arkansas over Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois actually has had a respectable run defense through three games, so maybe the Hogs won't rush for 400 yards on Saturday. Maybe. Arkansas 48, Northern Illinois 21

South Carolina over Vanderbilt: After a thrilling 38-35 victory over SEC East favorite Georgia, the Gamecocks must get back on the field. Expect a slow start, but no fourth-quarter visor-throwing from the HBC. South Carolina 34, Vanderbilt 14

Unanimous summaries and scores by Edward Aschoff.

Standings
Chris Low 32-2
Edward Aschoff 31-3
Jeff Barlis 31-3
David Ching 31-3
Sam Khan Jr. 30-4
Greg Ostendorf 29-5
Alex Scarborough 27-7
Georgia has offered boxing great Evander Holyfield’s son a scholarship, and the Dawgs seem ready to deliver the knockout. Plus, Kansas State hosts Auburn in one of the biggest games ever in Manhattan, but there won’t be a lot of recruits in the stands.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Bama and UF offenses could be biggest key
Going into Saturday's SEC matchup, Florida has not won at Alabama in 16 years.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20