Saturday, December 5, 2009

Are you ready to rumble?

The game today will probably be very much like last year, a close one, and here's why:

1. Watch the Julio Jones-Joe Haden matchup: Here's Saturday's most entertaining matchup—both these guys figure to challenge for All-American honors and enjoy lucrative NFL careers. Even the players are wrapped up in the duel; during a lunch-hour teleconference Monday, Haden, Florida's star defensive back, said he didn't know enough about Tide quarterback Greg McElroy to answer a question about him. "I've just been watching Julio, honestly," he said of Alabama's sophomore wideout. "I'm sorry." Jones had five catches for 124 yards a year ago, and Haden sealed the Florida win with a fourth-quarter interception (the game's lone turnover). Bank on both guys having big games again this year.

2. Both teams will run the ball: The Tide and Gators entered last year's game boasting top run defenses. Yet each squad managed to establish the run as a significant part of its offense. The Tide's offensive line defeated UF's defensive front and allowed Glen Coffee to run for 112 yards. That sounds like a decent benchmark for Mark Ingram this week. The Gators rode Tim Tebow's rushes and got a good effort from speedy Jeff Demps (14 carries, 53 yards). Credit Florida's interior line, which returns intact this year, for handling Bama defensive tackle Terrence Cody.

3. Tim Tebow, difference-maker: The most popular man in college football performed like its best player in last year's fourth quarter. He went 5-for-5 passing for 72 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with three minutes remaining. He also converted a third-and-1 on the ground. "We just kept finding ways to get the first down, put it in the end zone against a great team," Tebow said this week on a teleconference.

4. Javier Arenas in two phases: Alabama's senior earns publicity and honors for his special teams play. And his 20-yard punt return and 41-yard kickoff return last season are stuck in the minds of the Florida coaches. The guy plays safety for the Tide, as well, and his improvement has made him the leader of a key part of coach Nick Saban's defense. "He's eliminated a lot of mental errors, because of his knowledge and understanding," Saban said of Arenas on a teleconference this week.

5. Gators have offensive depth: Percy Harvin sat out last year's game with an injury, leaving UF devoid of its primary playmaker. No worries, though—Cooper, Carl Moore and David Nelson filled in the blank and caught touchdown passes from Tebow. So look for another batch of high-talent guys with low numbers to get chances Saturday. Chris Rainey, Deonte Thompson and Omarius Hines are the big-play candidates.

Photo Illustration: ESPN

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