UF-Bama grades: Tide defense dominates Gators

Alabama's defense was its usual dominant self in the SEC title game win over Florida, while Tide QB Jake Coker continues to get better.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

UF-Bama grades: Tide defense dominates Gators

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Alabama’s 29-15 victory over Florida in the SEC championship game:

Florida Gators

–Quarterback Treon Harris (-5.0 game grade) was facing the No. 1 defense in our overall PFF grades, so it wasn’t surprising that he struggled Saturday — but it was his inability to hit open receivers when he was given opportunities against the Tide defense that really cost the Gators. Any QB would have had trouble, but Florida’s lack of a passing game made it nearly impossible to move the football.

–Alabama had an obvious gameplan early on in this one — and it was to avoid Florida star DE Jonathan Bullard (+2.7) at all costs. On the first two runs they optioned off of him, seeing that as a better option than trying to block him. Then on the third they ran an outside-zone play away from him, and had a wide receiver faking the jet sweep cut him off on the backside. Bullard still got involved on his fair share of plays, making three stops on the day and earning a positive grade, but the Alabama line had much more success blocking the likes of Joey Ivie (-3.0) and Khairi Clark (-2.7) and they were never forced to abandon the ground game.

–Everyone knew the Gators’ offensive line would be overmatched, but I was surprised how often Florida tried to take on the Alabama defensive line with downhill runs. They ran inside-zone plays over and over again, only to be rocked into the backfield play after play and really never tried many wide or lateral runs. Unsurprisingly, every single starter on the O-line graded negatively in run blocking, and only Tyler Jordan graded positively in pass blocking (but he was still negative overall at -1.3).

Top performers:

DE Bryan Cox Jr. (+5.3)

DT Caleb Brantley (+3.4)

DT Jonathan Bullard (+2.7)

CB Vernon Hargreaves III (+2.6)

LB Jarrad Davis (+2.5)


Alabama Crimson Tide

–RB Derrick Henry (-0.8) may be the Heisman front-runner after putting up 189 yards, but it was an unimpressive overall performance from a back who received 44 carries. Even putting aside his early fumble, which dings him heavily in our grading, Henry only managed to break five tackles on his 44 touches and average 2.7 yards after contact per attempt. For the season he’s breaking tackles at almost twice that rate and averaging 3.5 yards after contact per attempt. Henry deserves a ton of credit for the season he’s had and for carrying the offensive load Saturday, but this wasn’t him at his best — something Henry himself acknowledged in his postgame interview.

–If these are the types of holes Henry is going to be seeing in the college football playoff, the results may be similar to last year for Alabama. It wasn’t poor run-blocking, by any means, but it was far from the gaping holes that running backs have become accustomed to at Alabama. As a team they graded out at -0.5 for run blocking, with center Ryan Kelly (+2.9) leading the way and left guard Ross Pierschibacher (-4.1) struggling the most.

–QB Jake Coker (-0.1) has developed quite nicely throughout the course of the season, to the point where he is playing at a level that allows the Tide to win a national title with him. He made just one poor decision on Sunday — a late out route early in the game that was behind intended target WR Calvin Ridley (+2.0) and dropped by Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III (+2.6). Outside of that he did what he’s done against most of the team’s SEC schedule: Execute the offense as it should be run, with a couple of splash throws like that beautiful fourth-quarter touchdown pass to WR ArDarius Stewart mixed in (+0.8).

–Not that it comes as a surprise, given Alabama is the top team in our overall defense rankings, but the Tide were dominant against the Gators. What might be surprising, however, is that the team’s standout performances came via the pass rush. OLBs Tim Williams (+3.0) and particularly Ryan Anderson (+8.5) did an outstanding job of disrupting the QB, recording a combined eight pressures including four sacks. The Tide didn’t have a single defensive player grade poorly — and overall for the season, they haven’t had a single regular contributor grade poorly. Star NT Jarran Reed (+2.1) led the way up front with three run stops.

Top performers:

OLB Ryan Anderson (+8.5)

OLB Tim Williams (+3.0)

C Ryan Kelly (+2.9)

CB Marlon Humphrey (+2.9)

RT Dominick Jackson (+2.7)

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

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