Gators defense still a work in progress

By Adam Silverstein
September 20, 2011

The Florida Gators offense was not instantly revitalized when Urban Meyer took over the team in 2005, so expecting new head coach Will Muschamp to completely turn around the defense in year one would be an unfair expectation.

However through his first three games at the helm, Florida is sporting the best run defense in the country (allowing an average of just 30.7 yards), the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the nation (8.7 points per game) and the seventh-best total defense in college football (209.3 yards per game).

As he preached from the moment he took the podium to discuss his decision to take over the Gators, Muschamp reiterated on Monday that everything in football starts with dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

“We’re talented up front. I think we’ve got good players up front. I’ve always felt that way,” he said. “I wish we had a little more depth than we have, but I’ll take the guys we got.”

From the push of defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard and sophomore Dominique Easley to the flexibility of defensive ends sophomore Sharrif Floyd and senior William Green, the players up front know the onus is on them to set the tone.

“They take a lot of pride in, and I always talk to them about dominate the line of scrimmage, making it a one-dimensional game,” Muschamp said. “You’ve got to be able to do that in this league.”

[EXPAND Click to expand and read the remainder of this post.]That is exactly what Florida has done up to this point. In Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against the Tennessee Volunteers, the Gators limited starting running back Taurean Poole to 18 yards on nine carries (they are holding all rushers to 1.2 yards per carry this season).

“Obviously the score dictated [that Tennessee starting throwing] the other night. We changed the game and our approach. The way we played the run early in the game kind of gets them out of it, too,” Muschamp noted. “There’s no question that [stopping the run] very important. If you can make an offense one-dimensional, it’ll give you a chance to win a lot of football games.”

The philosophy extends to the rest of the front seven, including junior mike linebacker Jon Bostic, who said the team has focused on attacking the line of scrimmage from the day the new coaching staff took over.

“All throughout two-a-days and even this summer – even when the coaches first got here in the spring -that was one emphasis we definitely wanted to make,” he said. “We want to stop the run. We want to be one of the most physical defenses in the country.”

Though the Gators are showcasing that strength and discipline up front, the team’s young secondary is still coming together. Out of Florida’s 16 penalties for 150 yards on Saturday, six were from the secondary including five pass interferences and a holding call.

The unit also gave up 288 yards and three touchdowns to Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray. UF wound up intercepting him twice but missed out on some game-changing opportunities by dropping a number of other balls thrown right at the defense.

“It’s nice to be there, but you got to finish the play. You don’t get your name in the paper for dropping one,” Muschamp said when addressing the drops. “When you’re able to have an opponent that’s down, you’re able to knock them out with a turnover like that. You’ll be able to get out of the red zone – we had three opportunities the other night to defend the goal line and get off the goal line.”

In the end, the Gators prevailed on Saturday; however, against a better opponent, the numerous penalties and missed turnover opportunities may have come back to bite them.

As much as Florida has impressed from a defensive standpoint, two of their stellar efforts were against lower level non-conference opponents. With Alabama and LSU looming in the next three weeks, UF has a lot of work to do if they truly want to be one of the elite defenses in the SEC.[/EXPAND]

11 Comments

  1. Aligator says:

    As always great reporting! It seems to me that our wide receivers and our defensive backs are just not where they should be at this time and understandably so. Maybe this is the year where we run all over people and stuff the run and hold on for dear life for wins. I mean this looks like a Nick Saban team to me ….

  2. Sydney says:

    I think our defense has a lot of potential, but a lot of it is fine tuning different things. On Saturday, holding onto a few of those dropped interceptions and cutting back on the penalties, and the game would’ve been over a lot earlier. Hopefully this Saturday will show some improvement before heading into October.

  3. John S. says:

    I like the fact that all of the issues are correctable. While the secondary was penalized they were rarely burned or out of position, except the first TD. We have the ability to cover anyone on the schedule, just maybe not the discipline or experience. We really don’t have many match-ups with passing offenses until late October. UK, Bama and LSU aren’t going to throw it all over the yard.

    We’re young so we may be a completely improved team by the end of the year. I’m loving this team so far.

  4. SC Gator says:

    Ok back up a sec…

    Why would we be expecting Muschamp to “turn the defense around?” We finished something like 2nd in the SEC in total defense last year, despite zero help from the offensive side of the ball. The expectation is only to not regress on defense while the offense finds itself. So far I’d say we are doing good on that.

    • The defense’s inability to stop Mississippi State, LSU and perhaps even Penn State (save for Black’s interception at the end of the game) cost Florida at least two and almost three games. The defense needed to be turned around – it fell off with Austin after Strong left, IMO.

      • SC Gator says:

        Our defense held Miss St to 10 points and 245 yards TO. Held Penn St to 24 points on 279 yards TO.

        Nabbed 5 interceptions vs Penn State while we were at it.

        Defense won the Penn State game by giving the offense short yards it could work with. It did not not lose the game vs Miss St. It could have done better vs LSU but like Miss St the difference there was an inability to kick FG’s, three misses between those two games. They had some issues vs FSU and got handled by South Carolina but my god, SC held the ball for 40+ minutes in that game and wore them out.

        Not saying they were 2008 caliber lights out – how could they be with the amount of power that left – but it seems to me that hiring a defensive minded head coach had nothing to do with a need to rebuilt the defense and everything to do with the need to get a high energy guy in that could pump up the program.

        • 1) Defense is not just about points and yardage. It’s about getting teams off the field when you need. MSU didn’t gain more than 245 yards because they ran the ball 49 times and threw it nine. They piled up 212 yards on the ground. They held the ball for 31 minutes that game. Their game plan worked because UF could not get them off the field.

          2) What five-interception game have you heard of where the team causing the turnovers still gives up 24 points? Don’t forget…the defense is the reason why they were driving for the win on that last drive and had UF completely gassed. Black and Black alone saved that game. PSU had 350 total yards and held the ball for 32 minutes, and their primary back averaged nearly five per carry.

          Field goals would have won those other games, yes, but they’re not the only reasons why Florida lost them. You have to get teams off the field. It was an issue all of last year and UF’s defense couldn’t do it when they were counted on to do so.

          Additionally, I didn’t say Muschamp was hired in order to rebuild the defense. That would be putting words in my mouth. But what I will say is, when you hire a _____-minded coach, you expect his specialty to be lights-out. When ND hired Weis and Florida hired Meyer, the expectation was that the offenses (and in Meyer’s case special teams as well) would be outstanding.

          You’re reading into the opening paragraph way too much. It was the intro to a story, not an opinion column.

          • Joe says:

            This isn’t an intended stab at you SC, but maybe your perception of what constitutes a good defense is off.

            I grew up watching football during the defensive heyday in the State of Florida. Dolphins with Thopmas, Bowens, Surtain, Taylor, etc. and Hurricanes with Vilma, Reed, Wilfork, etc. Maybe I’m spoiled, but those are defenses that could smash the run and cause havoc on the other side of the ball through pressure, schemes and straight up tenacity.

            I’m just saying that in my eyes, stats aside, we barely managed to win the games we did. We were lucky to have excellent cornerbacks over the last two years because our D was hard to watch.

            4th and short. anyone wanna take a guess on whether or not they’re going for it. Oh yeah that’s right no chance of stopping them. Les miles knew this and so did every team that played us last year.

            A defense shouldn’t just stop the running back, they should stop him behind the line or for no gain. If the defense isn’t sniffing out plays, hurrying the quarterback, sacking the quarterback, causing confusion and forcing turnovers through pressure then you might as well call it damage control. Having said that, I would take this D over any D the Gators have fielded over the past 10 years for the simple fact that they are the most tenacious bunch we’ve fielded in that span.

            Our defense must be feared to be in its rightful place. I want a defense of professional pain infliction experts…nothing less. Maybe this is why our perceptions on defense differentiate.

    • David says:

      Also, under Strong and Austin, we had a bend-but-dont-break philosophy of defense. I think Muschamp doesn’t even want to bend. He has also said that Urban recruited amazingly, and these guys know how to practice. I think it is just a different defense. After Moss and McDonald in 2006, we had the “down” year of 2007 while of young defense learned how to play. After 2009, when we lost Cunningham and Dunlap, we had no quality defense line play. I think we just need to give these guys time.

  5. Joe says:

    Did I mention I love this defense?

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