Florida, Alabama battle red zone problems

Associated Press
Receiver Julio Jones is one of several weapons on offense for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide have struggled inside the red zone. Florida also has had trouble inside their opponents' 20.

No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Florida have bruising runners, with Mark Ingram and Tim Tebow leading powerful ground games. They have surehanded tight ends Colin Peek and Aaron Hernandez, and big wide receivers, too.

Muscling the ball into the end zone once inside the opponents' 20 should be a breeze, right? Not necessarily.

Struggles in the red zone have had both teams seeing red at times. It seems to be a relatively small problem for two unbeaten teams with few weaknesses, but Saturday's SEC title game could leave little margin for error.

"That's going to be a critical part of the game, as to who can finish in the red zone," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday. "The multiples add up between seven and three."

They sure did in last year's SEC title game. Florida got four touchdowns and a field goal on six red zone trips in that 31-20 win, reaching paydirt on two fourth-quarter visits.

Alabama got deep twice in the second half, driving 91 yards before settling for a short field goal, then throwing an interception inside the Gators' 10.

"If you have to settle for field goals in a game like this, it's going to be tough to win," Tebow said. "In those final drives last year, if we settled for field goals, who knows if we win that game?"

The Gators have gotten their act together since managing just eight touchdowns in 28 red zone trips in their first five SEC games. They've scored seven touchdowns and a field goal in nine red-zone trips in their past two games against a couple of weak defenses.

Alabama had mixed results in a 26-21 win over Auburn. The Tide had first downs from the Tigers' 13 in back-to-back possessions but had to settle for a pair of Leigh Tiffin field goals that left the Tide down a point going into the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Greg McElroy left the field after the second one, which included a fumbled exchange with tailback Trent Richardson.

"We had a couple of missed signals," said McElroy, who threw a 4-yard TD pass to win the game on the next red zone venture. "It's an easy fix. It's just focusing."

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP

WHO: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Georgia Dome

TV: CBS-Ch. 12

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