Excitement fills the streets of Gainesville as the rematch of the 2020 SEC Championship Game is just one day away.
Circled on the calendar for many as soon as the contest on December 19, 2020, came to a close, the Gators play host the Nick Saban-led powerhouse in The Swamp with a chance to assert themselves as contenders with an outright win or close loss.
Florida will have to contend with the high-scoring attack that is the Crimson Tide's offense with points of their own, complementing their strong rushing game so far this season with the passing game. To do so, Florida will call upon its most veteran presence in the wide receiver room to provide a constant outlet and deep play threat to quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
In other words, redshirt junior pass catcher Jacob Copeland is the Florida Gators X-Factor for week three.
However, in honor of the highly-anticipated showdown in the Sunshine State, AllGators presents a twist on the X-Factor series, providing a direct and indirect X-Factor for the Gators matchup with Alabama.
Direct X-Factor: WR Jacob Copeland
Serving as a casualty in a crowded wide receiver room since his arrival in Gainesville in 2018, Jacob Copeland was anointed as the next great receiver to wear the orange and blue.
As a highly touted recruit that chose the Gators over Alabama and Tennessee, Copeland — four years later — has stepped into the spotlight in the receiver room as the undenied first option for whichever quarterback is under center.
Getting off to a slow start in week one, Copeland hauled in just one catch for 15 yards in the first quarter against a less talented FAU defense. However, stepping up to the plate in week two, Copeland finally had his long-awaited breakout game, snagging five ball for 175 yards and two scores on the day.
Providing Florida with a big-play threat on multiple instances throughout the day, he finally lived up to the potential he carries.
When facing off against Alabama in week three, Copeland will need to make a statement yet again.
While the rushing game will be the inevitable focal point for a vastly different scheme offensively, the passing game will be vital for the team if UF wants to keep the game close.
Utilizing the pass to open up the run per se, Florida will look to Copeland to lead the pack of pass-catchers and create comfort for whoever operates under center.
Namely, he will be asked to be a Swiss army knife of the offense, providing a safety blanket when pressure collapses the pocket on Jones or Richardson while simultaneously serving as the home run hitter he has asserted himself as against Bama’s 39th ranked passing defense in 2021.
If the fourth-year star is able to produce in a way that replicate game two more than game one — and provide a consistent option when plays break down — Florida will be in a favorable position to keep the game close or even pull off the upset victory over the Tide.
Indirect X-Factor: The Swamp's Atmosphere
A home-field advantage can be the difference between wins and losses.
The fandom of college football rivals any other in the United States, especially in the South.
Presenting the rare opportunity to welcome the nation’s number one ranked team into The Swamp, the raucous environment will play a major part in wreaking havoc on the Crimson Tide’s communication.
Namely, welcoming redshirt freshman quarterback Bryce Young into the building in his first true road start, Florida will look to force lapses in both decision making and communication for the Tide’s offense.
While Todd Grantham’s defensive play-calling will be the deciding factor in their ability to do that, The Swamp is no stranger being an intimidation factor for proven and unproven collegiate athletes.
For example, Auburn starting quarterback Bo Nix's performance in 2019 was a product of a menacing defense and crowd – a game the Tigers presumably used to pipe in crowd noise for their trip to Penn State this week.
As a result, Gator Nation will need to make some noise. In fact, make a lot of it.
While it’s equally as important for the Gators to put together a performance that keeps the fan base engaged, the 90,000 strong that are expected to enter Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon will be an added source of energy.
Simply put, The Swamp needs to be both a disruptive force for Alabama and a fielding force for the coaching staff and players standing on the Florida sideline throughout the longevity of the contest.
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