By Justin Graves
The Cullman Times
Urban Meyer tried a gimmick pass. Then a traditional offensive play.
Yet both were ineffective.
That’s when the Florida football coach realized what San Jose State, Penn State, Duke and Arkansas already knew:
The best offensive weapon against top-ranked Alabama’s defense in the red zone is a good place kicker.
The Crimson Tide defense has been stifling inside its own 20-yard line this season.
Florida found that out the hard way in a 31-6 loss Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Gators drove inside the Alabama 20-yard line four times, but only managed three points.
But this isn’t anything new. Not for an Alabama defense that leads the Southeastern Conference in red-zone efficiency.
“One thing you have to pride yourself on is not giving up down there (in the red zone),” Alabama defensive lineman Josh Chapman said. “It is about going out and tackling guys in the red zone. You have your back against the wall because you aren’t that far from the end zone, but you just have to dig down deep. As long as you try to dominate every play, that’s all you can ask for … but we don’t want to give up any points down there.”
Dominate is exactly what Alabama’s defense has done inside it’s own 20.
Through five games, opposing offenses are a pedestrian 57.1 percent on scoring opportunities against Alabama in the red zone. The Tide has given up two touchdowns in 14 tries, and teams have settled for a field goal six times.
But isn’t 14 red-zone opportunities too many for a team that prides itself on having a dominant defense?
Not according to Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“I think that playing well in the red zone is a really important part of being a good defensive team,” Saban said. “Most of the time when you don’t give up big plays, you play well in the red zone and you get pretty hard to score on.
“Our guys have competed very well down there. You have to give them credit for the tenacity they have. Would we rather have played and never have let a team get down there? Sure. But we were better in the red zone last year and I think that contributed to our success and that is something that we have emphasized this year with this team.”
Timely turnovers have been a key part behind Alabama’s red-zone dominance. The Tide has forced six turnovers inside it’s own 20-yard line.
Three of those red-zone turnovers belong to Florida.
Florida turned the ball over twice inside the 2-yard line — an interception in the end zone and a fumble on the 1-yard line. The Gators also turned the ball over on downs at the Alabama 12-yard line in the fourth quarter.
“When the field shrinks and you play pass defense in the red zone, you don’t have the vertical separation in the field like you have when the ball is out in the field,” Saban said. “Everything gets condensed, and the area for the quarterback to throw the ball gets condensed.
“We’ve done a good job of executing so far (in the red zone). The big thing is you stop the run, then you force them to pass … and if you can force them to throw, it is a little more difficult. They have more people in a lot less space and we’ve done a pretty good job of executing what we do. We’ve practiced it a lot and our players have responded Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.