Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
It's championship weekend, and Alabama, Florida and Texas each are one win away from playing for the national title.
Alabama and Florida meet for the SEC title, and Texas plays Nebraska for the Big 12 championship.
We asked two SEC assistant coaches to break down the Gators and the Tide position by position, and we promised them anonymity for their responses.
We asked a Big 12 assistant to break down the Longhorns offensively and defensively, and we promised him anonymity for his responses.
THE INSIDE STORY ON ALABAMA
QUARTERBACK: You have to make [Greg] McElroy beat you. I don't think he's a very good quarterback. He gave us plenty of opportunities when we played them to keep us in the game, throwing balls right to us and things like that. If you can stop the run, I think you got them because he isn't going to win a game for you. He will manage a game and keep from losing it, but he isn't going to go out there and win a game for you from what I have seen. He has gotten better. He is a lot like John Parker Wilson. The coaches won't let him screw it up for them. Nick [Saban] is a defensive coach, and there are a lot of scenarios when they're backed up and very conservative [because] they won't put the defense in a bad position.
RUNNING BACKS: You have to stop [Mark] Ingram. They want to run the ball. Saban prides himself on being physical, running the football, playing great defense and all that stuff. You have to stop Ingram. You have to stop the run, but Ingram is a really good player. He made some cuts in our game that a normal running back wouldn't be able to see. I think he's really, really good.
RECEIVERS: I don't know how strong their receiving corps is. They try to do bootlegs, naked stuff. They try to pound you, pound you and free up the quarterback and hit play-action.
Julio [Jones] is special. He's not [Georgia's] A.J. Green. Julio is aggressive, but he can't take a 2-yard play and turn it into an 80-yard play. A.J. can in a heartbeat. They both are tall and long-armed and tough to tackle.
The guy we were more concerned with from a deep-threat angle was [Marquis] Maze. He was more of a vertical threat than Jones, without a doubt.
Their tight end, [Colin] Peek, is underrated. He's a really good player who doesn't get enough credit. He is kind of a go-to guy.
LINE: I thought their line was big and physical - and they did a great job of holding against us. They have big, strong, fairly athletic, aggressive linemen. They really are defensive linemen just dressed up in '70' numbers. The line is young but getting better. The big key against their offense is to stop the run. Make sure everyone is aggressive and that you fit your assignments in the box. They do such a good job of double-teaming, you need to be aggressive and get those double-teams off and be fast enough where the guy who is being double-teamed is able to be in that gap.
LINE: You pass when [Terrence] Cody is in there. He won't get much of a rush and he'll get fatigued. And when he goes out, you run. You can't really run inside with him because he's hard to double-team. You try to get two people on him and you try to move him and he does a good job of fighting it. You try to do some stuff to make him run.
LINEBACKERS: They are fast and physical. They are disciplined as far as schemes go. They get on each other when one of their teammates makes a mistake. They police themselves. It tells me they have great leadership. [Rolando] McClain is a leader, the guy who lines them up. He's a phenomenal communicator. He looks like a quarterback of the defense.
SECONDARY: Their weakness might be their secondary. They lost some guys who were chemistry guys in the back end. Schematically, they do a lot of different things. They do some things I couldn't get away with because I don't have some of the players who can just make plays. They do some things like Florida where you go, 'Holy cow, that's not very sound.' But it ends up in a 2-yard loss.
THE INSIDE STORY ON FLORIDA
QUARTERBACK: Our staff thought Tim Tebow has gotten worse as a quarterback from last year to this year. Everyone talks about his mechanics and dropping the football; he drops it lower this year and has worse mechanics. I don't know what it is. He's still making throws and doing some things, but he just doesn't seem comfortable back there. I don't know if it's because of the concussion or what. But teams are making him sit in the pocket longer and throw the football, and sometimes he gets a little skittish back there.
He obviously misses Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy. A guy like Harvin doesn't come around too often. So what teams are doing is they are all dropping eight people into coverage. And when they rush the passer, they aren't running past the quarterback and letting him step up into the pocket and throw.
Our biggest thing was we wanted to zone pressure him. I don't think we played a snap of man coverage the entire game. We were going to drop eight and make him complete throws and zone pressure him and bring extra linebackers with zone behind it.
RUNNING BACKS: They are small, fast guys. I really like [Jeff] Demps. I think [Chris] Rainey is purely a speed guy. I think [Emmanuel] Moody is just kind of a guy; I don't think he's a great player. I do like Demps. He's a speed guy, but he has some physicalness to him. He runs the ball with authority, and I would think they would want to get him the ball more. I think he's a good player. Tebow is an extra running back. He moves the pile and keeps them out of third-and-long and makes just enough plays to stay on the field. The thing with Tebow is if they get the running game going, they can stay out of third-and-long. We felt if we could get them in third-and-long, then you have them right where you want them. And we did a couple times.
Do they miss [former offensive coordinator] Dan Mullen? I have thought about that. I know the guy calling the plays [Steve Addazio] has been a line coach there forever. It's not that he doesn't know the pass game. But I think it's different when the guy calling the plays isn't the quarterback coach. And [Addazio's] background hasn't been in the passing game. But this still is Urban's offense; he's heavily involved, and that's easy to see.
RECEIVERS: [Riley] Cooper is a good player. He's deceptively fast. Everybody sees a tall white guy and thinks he's a possession receiver. But that guy can play; he can run. No. 6, I think his name is Thompson [Deonte Thompson], he is a good player and has some abilities. But, really, there wasn't anybody at receiver that we felt scared about. The tight end [Aaron Hernandez] and No. 11 [Cooper] were his go-to guys.
When Tebow drops back to throw, you don't see a lot of throws to the outside. If they spread you out, they're going to work the middle of the field. If they have you in a three-by-one set with a receiver into the boundary - usually No. 11 - they are going to attack back into the boundary and get him isolated on people. That's their M.O.
Hernandez is good. He does a lot for them. Hernandez and Cooper are the guys Tebow looks for. They don't have that other guy like they did last year. They will do a shovel pass off the option, and they will go to Hernandez in certain situations. When they need a first down, they will try different things to get Hernandez the ball.
LINE: Their offensive line is great. They do a great job of blocking, and the linemen are athletic and physical as heck. And they really play to the whistle, which may give Alabama some fits. I think their line is … as good as we played this year.
LINE: They have phenomenal skill guys in [Jermaine] Cunningham and [Carlos] Dunlap on the edge. They move around, they do a lot. But a lot of it has to do with the type of athletes they have. They can be out of position, and the worst scenario is it's a 5-yard gain. They can really make up some things. But when they get against a team like Alabama that will pound you, it will be interesting to see what happens.
LINEBACKERS: They are really good. They're big and physical. [Brandon] Spikes is playing well for them. They are good up front. They have linebackers who can run. They certainly are an impressive defense. They are athletic and can run. I don't know how many are great, but they all are really good.
SECONDARY: Our coaches felt if they had the athletes that they could attack them because they tell you what they're going to do by how they line up. I guess they don't care. They take chances and do a lot of different things. They aren't living on the edge of every defensive call. They aren't worried about making mistakes.
I think special teams will be huge. Alabama has [Javier] Arenas, and there is no question that he's a good player. But Florida is so much better overall on special teams. And Meyer coaches the special teams, and you can see it.
They do a lot of things on special teams that are risks that they are able to do because the head coach is running special teams. If we're doing some of that stuff, the special teams coach is getting his butt ripped by the head coach.
They constantly put pressure on you. They cover kicks so well, punt so well, the return game is good, they block kicks. And because they always have the threat of blocking it, your punter is having to get the ball out of there quickly and he's hitting line drives that Brandon James has a chance to catch and get started. That is something to watch for. That is the one advantage Florida has.
A QUICK LOOK AT TEXAS
Colt McCoy was off the charts last year, and he kind of has come back to earth. He is turning the ball over more. The issue with their offense is it's really Colt McCoy and [wide receiver Jordan] Shipley. We were really physical with Shipley and he wasn't a major factor in our game. When you can force those other receivers to have to be the playmakers and you limit what they do in the run game, you can manage them offensively. Now, that's easier said than done. That's what we were able to do. We were physical. We knocked Shipley around and we got after McCoy, too. And we really limited their running game.
And they don't have a great running game, anyway. The issue they will have in a title game is can they sustain a running game? And can the other receivers hurt you besides Shipley? I think that's where their weaknesses are.
The running backs are good athletes. A little of it is their scheme. They aren't a downhill running team. They are a spread, lateral team that tries to hit creases on you. The last couple of years, they haven't been a great running team. McCoy has gotten them off the hook in tough situations by scrambling. He hasn't run as much this year. I think he was dinged up early. So that hasn't been as big a factor. … He doesn't look like a substantial guy, but he seems to stand up to the hits pretty well.
They pressure you without blitzing. They'll bring one guy and play a lot of press technique. They tried to play a lot of man against us. We had some schemes on them. We were just one skill kid away from beating them offensively. We just needed to make a play. We were just a play away. You can be physical with them, so it will be interesting to see how they do against a physical outfit.
They will pressure you, and they have the athletes to run with you and play good man defense. They will try to get [Sergio] Kindle on the edge and into your quarterback's face.
We got in some cluster sets and ran a lot of crossing routes and pick plays, and we made some plays. We just couldn't pop a guy with some of our young receivers. When they get into a championship situation and match up to some similar athletes, someone [on the other team] will have to make a play.
I think they are outstanding in the back end. Their safeties have more speed and range than most anybody. Their corners are as good as there are in our league. Kindle is a guy who was better last year when they had Brian Orakpo. I thought they were tougher schematically to play against last year because they had two pass rushers. They have adequate pass rushers [this season]. Kindle is a little more on his own this year, which limits his effectiveness even though he still is a tremendous talent.
But what makes them go is their secondary and the fact they can press you. Their safeties have such range that when you get people open, they can run you down. [Earl] Thomas is fantastic. I wish he'd [go pro], to be honest with you. Both safeties are talented. They are young, too. You may see something on them schematically, but they recover so quickly.