University of Alabama

Alabama football: Crimson Tide must defend Florida offense that has its groove back

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It took four weeks, but Florida’s offense looks like it finally got its groove back.

Balanced and once again dangerous, the Gators’ traded in its clunker for something a little sportier just in time to visit Tuscaloosa at 7 p.m. Saturday for a nationally televised rematch of the SEC title game.

With the sudden offensive turnaround Florida experienced last Saturday against Kentucky, this year’s matchup will see more of the Gator offense of the last few years.

In the process a fresh face has been introduced to the world with comparisons already being drawn to a recently departed icon. Sure, freshman Trey Burton brings some of the same variations to the Florida offense that Tim Tebow brought as a dual-threat newcomer spelling Chris Leak in 2006, but Burton changes the pace from starter John Brantley in somewhat of a different way.

Instead of running like a fullback as Tebow did, Burton is smaller, quicker and more of a threat to test the edges of the opposing offense.

And unlike Alabama’s version of the Wildcat, Burton’s has a real threat of a pass or a zone-read option instead of straight runs between the tackles.

“The important thing with a guy like Trey is his football IQ is off the charts,” Gator coach Urban Meyer said. “‘OK, Trey, I want you to do this’ and he does it. It might sound easy, but in the heat of the battle, in practice when you’re learning so many things, that’s hard for a young player. Some old players it’s hard for. He’s a guy, ‘Here, we want you to do this.’ Bang, he did it.”

Burton, though, is just one wrinkle thrown in and not the base offense used most of the time. The freshman was really only used as a runner in goal line situations, so it’s up to John Brantley to run the show the rest of the time.

He still throws a lot of the quick passes that Tebow threw as the Gator offense doesn’t look much different on tape from last year to now, Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said.

“I don’t see anything different, just faster,” he said. “You don’t have Tebow back there, but I don’t see any difference.”

All told, Alabama’s defensive coaches have much more tape to look at as it prepares for the Gators this go-round. But unlike the more balanced quarterback Tebow became as an upperclassman, Florida’s new look isn’t polished enough to cause too much confusion for Alabama.

“It does create some problems, but it creates more problems when you’ve got one guy who can do it all because you have to defend it all, all the time,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Burton does pose a receiving threat that Tebow didn’t. One of his school-record six touchdowns scored against Kentucky came on a 19-yard pass from Brantley that gave him one more reception than Tebow ever had in Gainesville.

That versatility makes the threat even greater.

“It’s really important to be focused on keying them on things you have to do for your job, your assignment, then being able to execute what’s really important for us,” Tide safety Robert Lester said. “(Arkansas quarterback Ryan) Mallett could have put up more points than he did. That’s important for us to focus in on.”

Discipline and fulfilling assignments were an issue in the first half against Arkansas and Florida figures to try and exploit the same issues. Sending receivers in motion and moving running backs both strategies used effectively by the Razorbacks are mainstays of the Gator offense run by coordinator Steve Addazio.

And its potency is finally coming around after a baffling slow start to the season. The Gators totaled just 212 yards against Miami of Ohio in the opener but ran up a balanced 466 against Kentucky a week ago with 176 coming on the ground and 290 through the air.