TIDE, TAKE THREE• 1. Alabama has a 23-14 series record against Florida, with the Gators holding an 8-7 mark since 1990.• 2. The Crimson Tide have allowed just two sacks so far this season, and neither one has involved Blake Sims.• 3. Alabama is part of an SEC West that is 19-1 so far, with Arkansas losing at Auburn being the lone defeat.
It was a pitting of pro-style offenses the first time Alabama coach Nick Saban faced former understudy and current Florida coach Will Muschamp in 2011.
Alabama went to the Swamp that October evening and won 38-10 over the Gators, who started well but lost quarterback John Brantley to a month-long knee injury. Florida maintained its grind-it-out attack in 2012 and last season before abandoning it in December when Muschamp hired Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the same role on his staff.
The new-look Gators visit Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday as the No. 3 Crimson Tide open Southeastern Conference play.
"They do a lot of the things they did at Duke," Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "I think Duke was very productive on offense last year. They've got a lot of multiples of formations -- mostly three wideouts, a tight end and a running back -- and they'll spread you out in that, as well as being able to run the ball effectively by having the tight end somewhere in the core. The balance that they've created and the concepts that they have are sound and effective.
"We have a lot of respect for Duke and what they do there and what David Cutcliffe has done wherever he's been, and this is basically that system."
Florida had its season-opening game against Idaho canceled by repeated lightning strikes in and around Gainesville. The Gators demolished Eastern Michigan 65-0 before surviving Kentucky, 36-30, in triple-overtime this past Saturday.
The Gators were injury-ravaged last season, when they plummeted to 4-8 with an anemic offense that produced 316.7 yards and 18.8 points per game.
Through two games this month, Florida is averaging 593.5 yards and 50.5 points per contest, with redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel having thrown for 543 yards and four touchdowns on 56-of-88 passing (63.6 percent). Junior tailback Matt Jones has rushed for 221 yards and 6.0 yards a carry, while sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson has developed into a long-awaited perimeter threat with 21 catches for 339 yards and three scores.
"They have some significant impact players back who were injured a year ago," Saban said. "This is a much, much improved offensive football team."
While Saturday represents a big opening SEC test for the Crimson Tide, it is also a landmark opportunity for the Gators. Florida and Alabama met in the 2008 and 2009 SEC titles games, splitting those matchups, but the Gators have been outscored 69-16 in the two meetings since.
Muschamp, who is 24-16 in his fourth season, was asked Monday in his news conference if this week was a statement game.
"They're all statement games," Muschamp said. "They're all important. They count as one."
When Saban became LSU's head coach in 2001, he hired Muschamp as linebackers coach. Muschamp was promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2002-04 seasons, helping the Tigers to the 2003 BCS championship, and he went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins in 2005 before returning to the SEC the next year as Auburn's defensive coordinator.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Will," Saban said. "He did a great job for us when he worked for us. He's one of the best assistant coaches that I've ever had, and I knew that he would make a very, very good head coach. He's a hard worker and a good recruiter, and he does a really good job of coaching players."
Said Muschamp: "I probably wouldn't be standing here if not for the opportunities he gave me early in my career."
Alabama was challenged in its opener against West Virginia before pulling away for a 33-23 triumph. The Crimson Tide have not been tested in the two weeks since, shredding Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss by a combined 93-12.
West Virginia has shown signs of being much better than the 4-8 team of a year ago, and even the past two weeks seem to have given Saban some kind of gauge.
"I think our team has definitely gotten better," Saban said. "We have a young team in a lot of areas, and I think these guys need to continue to play with more confidence. Hopefully, we've gained some confidence and understanding of what it takes to play and be successful."
Senior safety Jarrick Williams (foot) is doubtful for this week's game, while senior receiver DeAndrew White (shoulder) will practice this week before a decision on his playing status is made. ... Leon Brown, who missed most of preseason camp with a foot injury, appears to have claimed the starting right guard spot from Alphonse Taylor. ... Muschamp on the challenge of facing Alabama in Bryant-Denny: "The key ingredient is having an experienced quarterback."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.