University of Alabama

SEC Championship features top defenses

Statistically, it’s almost comical.

Realistically, it’s nearly unfair.

The Alabama and Florida defenses gearing up for Saturday’s 4 p.m. SEC Championship Game are easily two of the best in recent memory. Good news for both until considering the offenses must navigate the Tide and Gator defenses that fall in the top two in the SEC for each of the four major statistical categories.

Both sides are loaded with NFL talent and both are anchored by linebackers who are Butkus Award finalists — Rolando McClain for Alabama and Brandon Spikes at Florida. Both are considered the backbones of their respective units and locks to be high-round draft picks when the time comes.

No talk of a defensive struggle is lost on Tide quarterback Greg McElroy.

“Can you argue with it? The statistics speak for themselves,” McElroy said. “… For those people who try to predict and anticipate, who would have predicted that we were down against Auburn 58 minutes into the game. No one would have predicted that; I know we wouldn’t have. That’s why the game is played on the field and not on the computer.”

The consensus over-under point totals among online gambling sites put the combined total score at 41 points for two teams averaging more than 53 points per SEC game combined. Neither offense has been as potent as traditional No. 1 and No. 2 teams, although the Gators still lead the SEC with 451.3 yards per game while Alabama is fourth at 405.6.

Running the ball isn’t an issue for either team. It’s the passing game that has been an issue for quarterbacks McElroy and Tim Tebow. The Gator pass offense falls sixth in the SEC, followed by Alabama in eighth.

The Tide caught a break Tuesday when Florida’s Carlos Dunlap was suspended for the game after being charged with an early-morning DUI. The speedy defensive end’s seven sacks were good for third in the conference, and he had two quarterback hurries in last season’s SEC title game win over Alabama.

Florida still will have Spikes, though.

Not the sack producer Dunlap is, Spikes does a little of everything with two interceptions, two more breakups to go with 53 tackles in 10 games, although he missed most two games with an ankle injury.

His Alabama equal, McClain, said he doesn’t watch much football so he hasn’t seen much of Spikes’ work. His reputation is enough, though.

“He’s obviously a good guy, a good linebacker or he wouldn’t be as highly rated as he is,” said McClain who leads the Tide with 96 tackles, has four sacks, 11 hurries and two interceptions.

From a philosophical standpoint, Alabama is more likely to get defenders in the face of the opposing quarterback. The Tide has 65 quarterback hurries and 31 sacks. While the Gators have three more team sacks, they’ve hurried opposing passers just 22 times.

From watching film of the Gators, McElroy likened their defense to LSU’s of a few years ago.

“That’s what they dare you to do: to take shots at them. As far as talent level, we haven’t played anybody with their talent level yet.

“We’ll just have to go out there — we know what we’re going to get from them — and execute the best way we know how.”