Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp got the ball rolling in his post-game press conference following his team’s devastating loss on the road at Miami.
Muschamp said he held Florida’s defense to a higher standard than it performed at that Saturday and noted that he was dismayed by the Gators coughing up a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter.
One of the first players to meet with the media on Monday following Florida’s bye week, senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley echoed his coach’s words in an even more direct and specific fashion.
“Our goal is not to let the defense score, period,” said Easley matter-of-factly. “So, once we manage to get that stat, I think we can say we are one of the best defenses.”
Asked if holding every team scoreless is a legitimate goal, Easley nodded his head.
“In my life, I strive for perfection. If there’s no perfection, there’s no greatness. We’re supposed to be great.”
It is a message he is trying to disseminate to his teammates.
“He always talks to us about that, too,” said sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard. “As you all see, the past few games, we had good games on the defensive side of the ball but we gave up a big play here and there. He’s just talking about correcting the little stuff to make us become a great defense.”
Indeed, the Gators’ defense is already widely believed to be one of the best in the nation. Florida is ranked third in total defense and rushing defense and also first in third down conversion percentage defense. The Gators have only allowed opponents to convert 2-of-24 tries (.083) on third down through two games.
Easley is not the only one who believes the goal of UF’s coaches is to pitch a shutout every time the team steps on the gridiron.
“That’s what we’re all supposed to hold ourselves to,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor. “Like I said after the Miami game, if they don’t score, they can’t win. If we don’t allow them to get into the end zone and we score ourselves, there’s no way we lose the game.”
Other players, like senior safety Jaylen Watkins, are not expecting perfection but remain aware that Florida’s defense has not played to the best of its ability just yet.
“We definitely have the potential to be better than what we were last year,” Watkins said, referencing UF’s No. 5 overall defense in 2012. “We’re looking forward to coming out this week and trying to reach that.”
That is closer in line to what defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has been preaching.
“We’re very demanding on the defense. I don’t know if ‘perfection’ is the right word. That’s not something that I say, but I am very demanding on these guys,” he explained.
“We have a standard that we feel we can live up to and we hold in our room. At times, like I said, we’re meeting that. At times, we’re not. We need to be more consistent in doing that.
“That might be [Easley’s] viewpoint on what we’re striving for and that’s fine, that’s great if they’re feeling that way. We’re going to continue to be very demanding of those guys.”
Easley is certainly leading the charge towards that goal.
Through two games, he is tied for second on the team with two tackles for lost yardage and three quarterback hurries.
Easley has been a disruptive force on the inside of the defensive line but still has a ways to go to reach the charge he laid out for the team on Monday.
“I think he’s played better than ‘all right.’ I’m glad he’s hard on himself that way. He’s a very self-motivated guy. That guy has an unbelievable motor, as I’ve talked about before. He’s definitely played better than ‘alright,’” said Durkin of Easley.
“I think he can play better than he’s played. And he’ll continue to do that because of how hard he practices, how well he prepares, how hard he plays in games and how talented he is. He’ll get better and better every game as the season goes on.”
The Gators’ defense looks poised to take that same approach as an entire unit.
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