Alabama, ranked second in the nation, and Florida, 12th, meet in a battle of unbeaten (4-0) Southeastern Conference teams in Gainesville Saturday. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. Eastern time) and CBS will televise the game.
Crimson Tide center William Vlachos is one of the veterans of the 2009 BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Bama took a 37-21 decision for Alabama’s 13th national championship. Will Muschamp was defensive coordinator at Texas, and much was made then of his relationship of having formerly been a defensive coordinator under Nick Saban.
Vlachos has been studying videotape of Florida this week. He played against the Gators last year, the final season Urban Meyer was Florida coach, and was asked about the differences in the defense this year.
“They run some three-man front like we do, maybe not as much as we do,” said Vlachos, the 6-1, 294-pound senior from Mountain Brook. “We played against them [the Muschamp defense] at Texas two years ago. This is the type of team that’s going to do what they do. They are going to say, ‘We’ve got our athletes, you’ve got yours, come beat us.’ We’re excited about it.”
Vlachos, a three-year starter, said that Saban has not mentioned his past background with Muschamp, and didn’t need to.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Vlachos said of Muschamp. “I think he’s a great coach. Seeing him jumping around at the national championship game two years ago, the passion he brings on the sideline is pretty awesome. Great defensive mind and I know he learned a lot from Coach Saban. He’s doing a great job so far at Florida.”
Although Alabama players are committed to playing games “one at a time,” it wasn’t lost on Vlachos that two of Bama’s biggest games would be back-to-back this season. Last Saturday the Tide defeated Arkansas, 38-14, in Tuscaloosa.
Vlachos said when he saw the pre-season schedule it looked big. “Absolutely,” he said. “First two SEC games, great opponents. Florida is outstanding, especially on defense. Lot of great athletes on the field everywhere; and we’re used to that playing them the last two years. They had some pretty talented personnel. We’re looking forward to the challenge, especially going to their place. I don’t think anyone on our roster has been there and played a game. it’s going to be exciting.”
It’s no surprise that veteran lineman Vlachos thinks “[I]n the SEC, whoever wins the battle up front usually does win the game. They have a very good defensive front, have some new guys in there, some young guys that are about as talented as anyone we’ll play against. They look great on film so far. Play with a lot of energy and a lot of effort. It’s going to be a challenge and we’re excited about it.”
Thus far, Vlachos thinks that offensive line pass protection has been “all right. We can certainly improve. I think A.J. (quarterback A.J. McCarron) is doing a good job of getting the ball out and buying himself some time when those situations come up. I think overall it has been okay, and we need to continue to improve. This will definitely be the best pass rush we’ve played.”
Vlachos agrees with fellow offensive lineman Barrett Jones that the front needs to give McCarron a little more time in order for the vertical passing game to succeed.
“Yes, we do,” Vlachos said. “Absolutely. He’s a really good quarterback, we’ve got really good skill players, he’s been making really good decisions, something we’re real, real proud of, and we’ve got to do our job up front.”
Vlachos is pleased with the job McCarron has done, and particularly with the first-year starting quarterback’s performance as a game-manager against Arkansas last week. He said that McCarron made a lot of changes in plays at the line of scrimmage.
“That shows the confidence the coaches have in him,” Vlachos said. “He’s matured very quickly this year and I couldn’t be prouder of him. The biggest thing that stands out to me is the decisions he has made. He hasn’t gotten us into any really bad plays. Managed the game very well and made good decisions and the coaches trust him to go up there, identify things, check it off, and get us in the best play we can be in.”
The obvious comparison is to Greg McElroy, who led Alabama to a 14-0 season and the 2009 national championship as a first-year starter. Vlachos was the center for McElroy.
“They’ve both had success so far,” Vlachos said. Even before great achievements, both are “pretty sure of themselves in what they are doing. I think that’s because of the way they prepare, both watching a ton of film. That’s really the only way to be comfortable going into a game is to know you have prepared the best you can, and both of them have done that.”
Vlachos said preparation is one reason that Alabama has dominated opponents this year, particularly in the fourth quarter.
“That’s something that we emphasize year-round,” he said. “Our Fourth Quarter Program, summer, all-season. It’s something we emphasize, the fourth quarter. It’s sort of what our entire program is based on, finishing strong.”
Part of preparation this week has concerned goal line offense. Last week against Arkansas the Tide had a first-and-goal inside the one-yard line and ended up settling for a field goal.
Vlachos said the Razorbacks had a surprising goal line defense that caused confusion in blocking assignments.
“We got that straightened out,” he said. “When somebody does something against us and they have success, you know you’re going to see it again, so our coaches have made a point to make sure we got all that straightened out as far as our goal line packages, and that shouldn’t happen again.”
Many thought that Alabama actually scored on the first down of the series when McCarron tried a quarterback sneak.
“I thought he did,” said Vlachos.