University of Florida

Juggernaut Alabama will be a rough test for injury-plagued Gators

Freshman QB Jalen Hurts is a multidimensional threat. He has completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 2,454 yards and has 21 TD passes with nine interceptions.
Freshman QB Jalen Hurts is a multidimensional threat. He has completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 2,454 yards and has 21 TD passes with nine interceptions. AP

Jim McElwain has seen Alabama’s success firsthand.

Serving as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, McElwain was on site in Tuscaloosa for the start of Saban’s second rise to dominance in the Southeastern Conference.

In the five years since, though, Saban and the Crimson Tide have been virtually unstoppable, winning the SEC West every year in addition to three SEC Championships and two national championships. Alabama has lost just four games since the start of the 2012 season is on a 24-game winning streak, the third-longest streak in program history and one that dates back to the fourth week of last season.

On Saturday, McElwain and his injury-plagued SEC East Champion Florida Gators are the next team in line attempting to stop the juggernaut that is the Crimson Tide.

“I don’t look at it as a mismatch at all,” said McElwain, whose team is a 24-point underdog for Saturday’s matchup in Atlanta, according to Bovada. “”I look at it as a great opportunity and that’s part of the chess match.”

Like a chess match, UF will need to be methodical and practically error free if it wants to win the David-and-Goliath matchup against Alabama, constantly thinking two steps ahead.

As has been seen over the last two years, the Crimson Tide has made quick work of even the toughest opponents put in its way.

In its 24-game win streak, Alabama has defeated eight top-25 opponents by an 18.75-point average margin of victory.

“You can’t half-step going into this game,” UF cornerback Jalen Tabor said.

But how has Saban taken an already prolific Alabama program into one that is head and shoulders above the rest of the SEC?

Just look at his recruiting success.

The Crimson Tide has boasted the top recruiting class every year since 2011, according to 247sports.com. Saban’s backups and special teams players would be starters on almost any other team.

“They’ve got a bunch of creatures,” McElwain said. “... They know if they don’t [produce], someone will.”

It’s a recurring cycle. Alabama wins in dominating fashion. The top high-school recruits in the country flock to them as a result. They spend a year or two developing behind the top class in front of them and then burst onto the scene without a drop off.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This year’s group is no different, with McElwain calling it “probably the best team” Saban has had.

On offense, true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is a multidimensional threat. The true freshman has completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 2,454 yards and has 21 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions. He’s also dangerous on his feet, gaining 840 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns — tied for the third-most among Power 5 quarterbacks.

He’s playing behind an offensive line that has four starters who were four- or five-star recruits and has a running back in sophomore Damien Harris who is averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

On defense, senior defensive tackle Jonathan Allen is an almost unblockable force who frequently disrupts plays at the line of scrimmage.

The 6-3, 294-pound senior has 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks as an interior lineman and his ability to force the pocket to collapse before plays develop has been critical for a Crimson Tide defense that allows a nation-low average of 246.8 yards and 11.4 points per game. Alabama has also allowed opponents to make just 18 trips into the red zone.

“We’re constantly working on trying to create an identity as a team,” Saban said. “I think we want to be a physical, aggressive team that goes out and executes well and can do it for 60 minutes in a game.”

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