Florida's blitzing defense presents challenge and opportunity to Alabama football

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

The same thing that makes Florida’s defense a difficult task for most is the one that might make it play into the hands of Alabama’s offense: defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s blitzing tendencies.

Grantham has traditionally led some of the nation’s best defenses over the last decade, but something must give as his Gators face No. 1 Alabama in Saturday’s SEC championship game. If Grantham’s blitzes get home, Florida can create the negative plays it has thrived on this year; if Alabama can avoid them, one of the nation’s most explosive offenses will find it even easier to create big plays.

The benefits of Florida’s defensive style are obvious: the Gators lead the SEC in sacks and are second, behind only Alabama, in tackles for loss. Florida also is not reliant on any specific player: No one player is responsible for more than four of its 31 sacks.

“They get to the ball, and the front seven is really physical,” Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith said.

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Some of those blitzes, however, have put Florida in vulnerable situations.

In the second quarter against Arkansas, with the ball on the right hash, Florida brought a blitz from the boundary, or narrow, side of the field. Arkansas ran an interior run on the opposite side of the formation with pulling blockers running into a lack of defenders, given the blitz coming from the opposite side. Arkansas took the run for an 83-yard touchdown.

Similar blitzes proved costly in Florida’s loss to LSU last week. A corner blitz in the same situation opened up an easy 34-yard touchdown pass after a breakdown in communication in the secondary.

In the fourth quarter of the same game, Florida brought the same blitz from the left side, granting wide receiver Kayshon Boutte a one-on-one matchup that he won for a gain of 41 yards, taking LSU inside the red zone; the Tigers scored a go-ahead touchdown shortly thereafter.

These are examples of a larger trend. It has not been enough to undermine Florida’s entire defensive effort, still ranking fourth in the SEC in yards per play allowed, but it does give Florida an atypical profile. The Gators have played this level of respectable defense while ranking tied for 10th in the SEC with 12 plays of 40 yards or more allowed and being the only SEC team to allow more than one play of 80 yards or more.

That defensive profile against Alabama could be problematic, given UA is in the top five nationally in plays of 10 or more yards and in the top 10 in plays of 20, 30 and 40 yards or more.

Given 16 of Alabama’s 61 offensive touchdowns have come on plays of 30 yards or more, explosive plays can lead to points quicker when facing Alabama than they do against others.

Turning blitzes into points is dependent upon an offensive line that has been named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s best offensive line as a collective of five, not as individuals. 

“I think they do present a lot of challenges,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “A lot of it is making sure you get the protections right, point out the right Mike (linebacker) so you can get a hat on a hat. That's not just Mac (Jones)’s job; that's also the offensive line's job. You can't block them all. Everybody has to be on the same page of how to get the ball out quickly so you don't take negative plays. I think they kind of feed off that on defense.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson