Florida and Alabama likely would prefer not to see their matchup decided by the kicking game.
The fifth-ranked Gators look to work out their special-teams kinks while the Crimson Tide try to recover from a devastating loss when the teams meet in Gainesville on Saturday.
Florida beat Kentucky 26-7 last week, although the game was more of a struggle than the score indicated. The Gators had two extra-point attempts blocked in the first half and did not take the lead until 22 seconds remained in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Florida lined up for a field-goal attempt but opted to fake it rather than kick.
The Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) have botched five extra-point attempts this season and senior Chris Hetland is 0-for-2 on field-goal attempts after going 13-for-16 last season.
“We’ll have that figured out,” Gators coach Urban Meyer said. “We’re going to go get it done. We didn’t play very well at that position, and the confidence isn’t there. You can’t just say it’s the kicker. We’ve got to get it corrected, and we’re going to go work extremely hard on that.”
It’s easy to forget the Gators are 4-0 for the second year in a row under Meyer. They are the only Division I-A team to average more than 285 yards passing and 175 yards rushing per game. They’re also looking for their seventh straight win for the first time since 1998.
But a tough stretch that begins with Saturday’s game could make or break Florida’s season.
Following the game with Alabama—the Crimson Tide won 31-3 at home last season—Florida plays No. 9 LSU, No. 2 Auburn and No. 10 Georgia in succession.
“This is a big game against Alabama,” said Gators quarterback Chris Leak, who leads the SEC in passer rating (173.8) and total offense (257.8 yards). “We are really excited about this game. I just want to go in there and do my best to get a victory. It’s always important to have a big win in the SEC. It’s just another step in getting closer and closer to our main goal.”
The Gators have won 11 straight at home, tied for the third-longest streak in the country, and Meyer is 9-0 at The Swamp in his two seasons.
“It’s great to be home,” Meyer said. “The one comment I have about coming home is that I can’t wait to see our stadium the way it was against Tennessee a year ago and I think Alabama did a great job when we went there last year. I am counting on Gator Nation to make it impossible to get a snap off.”
The teams haven’t met at Florida Field since 1999, when Alabama stopped the Gators’ school-record 30-game home winning streak with a 40-39 overtime victory.
The Crimson Tide are 7-1 against Florida in Gainesville, although the teams have only played there three times in the last 20 years.
Alabama (3-1, 1-1) suffered a 24-23 double overtime loss to Arkansas last Saturday. Freshman kicker Leigh Tiffin missed three field-goal attempts— including two potential game-winners—and missed an extra point in the second overtime after the Crimson Tide went up 23-17 on a 1-yard touchdown pass from John Parker Wilson to Nick Walker.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re positive,” Alabama coach Mike Shula said. “We can’t hang our heads after this one, as much as you may want to and to feel sorry for yourself. You can’t do that. You don’t have time to do that. If you’re doing that, you’re not being fair to yourself or to your teammates.
“We’ve got to have our best week of preparation and have total focus on getting ready for Florida.”
Tiffin was filling in for Jamie Christensen, who has a groin injury and was only used on kickoffs against the Razorbacks.
Shula said this week that Christensen was nearly 100 percent healthy, and that he would regain his starting job when he returns. Christensen, who has yet to play this season, was only 12-of-21 on field-goal attempts from 30 yards or longer last season.
Besides the kicking woes, the Crimson Tide had problems running the ball against Arkansas and may have more trouble with Florida.
The Gators are fourth in the nation in run defense, allowing 42 yards per game. Alabama rushed 52 times for 118 yards against the Razorbacks, an average of 2.3 per carry.
“We’ve got to watch film and correct our mistakes,” said running back Kenneth Darby, who carried 26 times for 64 yards. “We’re going to have bounce back and get ready for Florida, because they don’t care we lost this game the way we did.”
Alabama leads the all-time series 20-12.