Alabama prepares to defend SEC title from Florida

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O.J. Howard prepares to run a route against Tennessee. CW | Layton Dudley

Terrin Waack

Alabama is going to have to be aware of all that is happening on the other side of the line of scrimmage on Saturday when it plays against the Gators in the SEC Championship.

Defensive lineman D.J. Pettway will experience firsthand what the Florida offense can do come Saturday. He already has an idea of what is in store for Alabama’s defense.

“They do a lot of motioning and transitioning, pre-snap stuff that really gets your attention off what’s going on, trying to make you think a lot before the play,” he said.

The Gators average 137 rushing yards per game and 214.9 passing yards per game. They also average 25.2 points per game.

Florida’s quarterback Treon Harris has completed 102 of 190 passes for eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He has recorded more rushing yards for Florida this year than anyone besides running back Kelvin Taylor. He’s totaled 346 yards on 73 carries. For comparison, Harris rivals Alabama’s running back Kenyan Drake who is at 366 yards this season.

Pettway admitted that Alabama has struggled against running quarterbacks in the past, but it’s not as bad anymore.

“It’s something we’ve been trying to improve on this year,” he said. “We’ve [been] doing an alright job at it, and we’ve got to continue to do it – keep on making sure we keep them contained and don’t let him get out.”

The situation is similar to Alabama quarterback Jake Coker. At 71 rushing yards, Coker’s number isn’t as high as Harris’ but he’s known to use his feet when needed.

Tight end O.J. Howard said Coker’s progression through the season is impressive.

“He takes care of the ball and that’s what we preach a lot,” Howard said. “He’s a smart quarterback. He makes the right read. He’s not afraid to tuck it away and run it.”

In the air, Coker has completed 204 of 312 passes for 2,285 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Howard said coaches normally don’t like to see their quarterbacks run and take hits like Coker has, but since he’s a tough guy, he can do that. No one’s said anything to him about it, but Howard is convinced even if someone did, Coker would still run regardless.

“He just makes plays after plays and we can’t thank him enough,” Howard said.

When Coker is on the field, so is Howard. Alabama’s defense may be expecting a prepared offense from the Gators, but there’s the flip side of the ball to also consider.

Howard said Florida has a great, physical defense. He expects it to be the toughest challenge the team faces this season.

“No doubt about it – they’re good all across the board and up front, the linebacker position and the secondary,” he said.

Similar to Alabama, Howard said Florida rotates players up front in and out in order to keep them from getting tired. When one goes out, another comes in and picks up the slack. Howard expects to face a speedy defense on Saturday.

The Gators have had 91 tackles for loss, 14 interceptions and 38 sacks.

“We’re going to have to come out there and be on our A game the entire game,” Howard said.

Regardless of all the rumors going around involving coaches, Alabama is excited for Saturday’s game. Pettway said it doesn’t effect what the team has to do on Saturday and that’s to go out there, play the best it can and win.

Alabama took the title last year after defeating the Missouri Tigers, 42-13. Now, Alabama will return to the Georgia Dome to defend its title.

Although the playoffs are approaching, Alabama isn’t thinking about them just yet. Florida comes first and foremost right now. Howard said the team is following its “one game at a time” motto. This game is what’s most important right now. This game is the SEC Championship.

“We’ve been working for this all year,” Pettway said.