Joe Haden has been an integral part of the strong Gator defense, leading the team with four interceptions and ranking second with 59 tackles. On Saturday, he’ll face one of the more physically dominating wide receivers in the SEC in Julio Jones. Jones hasn't had the touchdown production he had as a freshman, but he’s averaging more than 13 yards per catch.
“Julio, I think he likes the boundary, the short side of the field more often,” Haden said on Monday. “I play boundary corner. So whenever he lines up to the short side I'll be lined up against him. Whenever he lines up to the field, he'll be lined up against Janoris [Jenkins]. And Julio, he's a really big, strong guy. Pretty fast. What I'm going to do is try to get my hands on him, throw off the timing. Stuff like that and the same thing with Janoris, get my hands on him, try to throw off his timing and try to keep him off a little bit.”
Alabama and Florida will enter Saturday’s game with two of the nation’s top defenses. That could put pressure on both squads knowing that points on the scoreboard may be a premium. But last year, they combined for 51 points despite top-ranked defenses.
“You can control what you can control,” Haden said. “Our play will speak for itself. We know Tim and the boys are going to get the offense straight. As long as we do what we've been doing, we should be okay.”
Haden sees some similarities between the Alabama offense and the Florida offense he faces every day in practice. Both teams have relied on ball control and the ground game, but the Tide have been more of a power run team where the Gators have used the speed approach.
“They have a power running back with Trent Richardson,” Haden said. “We have a different way of doing it like with the scat backs and with Tebow and him running the ball like that. But establishing the running game is definitely a big similarity between our offense and their offense. They might do it in a different way as far as just power and power, the power game.”
Saturday’s showdown will feature the two teams that have dominated not just the last two seasons in the SEC, but have also won nine of the 17 SEC Championship Games. There also doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of letting up from either side.
“I think they have a really straight, good strong program,” Haden said. “We have a good program. And just the players on the team, they're just winners. When you watch Alabama play, it looks like they're playing for each other, too. Like the way we play for each other. We don't just play for individual stats. We don't just play for ourselves. We play for our teammates, because you could tell that if you really care about your teammates, makes you go that much harder for them. I don't know how Alabama is doing it, but looks like they really care about each other, too, the way they play, all the passion and emotion.”
The Gators have survived adversity all season long. In the early part, a significant portion of the roster experienced flu-like symptoms. Then they had to battle through Tim Tebow’s concussion, offensive woes, and criticism from both the local and national media. But their unselfish play has led to a perfect regular season, and yet the season's goal will come down to 60 minutes in Atlanta later this week.
“We had a plan to go to the SEC Championship,” Haden said. “That's the whole goal. That's the mindset for the whole team. Coach said, if you set yourself on going undefeated, he tried to keep that away from us. If you lose a game, then was the season a failure. He didn't want that to be the case. Now we're all sitting here undefeated. SEC Championship, we win this, we go on to the national championship. So basically this is the game. So everybody is just getting real focused. And we want to treat this week like a championship week.”
Between the SEC Championship and a shot at a second straight national title, there’s a lot on the line this week. But for everyone on the Florida defense, including Haden, they’ve been here before. And more importantly, they know how to win.