We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where OnlyGators.com takes a last look at the No. 11 Florida Gators as they prepare for their second road game of the season.
Florida (5-0, 3-0 SEC) will face the Missouri Tigers (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Farout Field in Columnbia, Missouri. The contest will air live nationally on SEC Network.
This week on OnlyGators.com
Number three? Florida figured out “action” and “reaction” … now what about “number three?” Gators prepare for road game against Tigers
Practice update: Gators looking for retribution as Florida hopes to take down Mizzou on its own homecoming
Ramping up the pressure: Finishing the 2014 season with 30 sacks and 96 tackles for loss, Florida’s defense is on pace to well exceed those marks. With 18 sacks and 46 tackles for loss banked through the 2015 campaign’s first five games, the Gators are on pace to register 43.2 sacks and 110.4 tackles for loss … and that’s not counting a potential bowl game. Those totals would eclipse Florida’s recent national championship seasons (2006, 2008) and its one-loss campaign (2009) … by a significant margin. They would be the most sacks for a UF team since 1999 and most tackles for loss … ever (in recorded team history).
The main man behind the Gators’ recent dominance up front is veteran defensive line coach Chris Rumph, who in his first year at Florida is on his way to maximizing talent at a position that was already succeeding in the previous regime. “On his way” because despite UF’s early success, Rumph does not think the Gators are anywhere near as dominant as they could be to this point. In fact, he believes Florida should have upwards of 25 quarterback takedowns already, but he does not see his players finishing consistently enough and believes UF is leaving plenty of opportunities out on the field.
“We’re not where we need to be right now up front, but we’re working every day – those guys are working hard,” he said Wednesday. “The 18 sacks are good to have, but we still got to keep working. We can’t look at that number and, like coach [Jim McElwain] said, rub our bellies and feel happy and satisfied with that.”
Rumph’s main focus has been teaching the Gators that consistent on-field effort does not always result in big stats in the short term, though it will when stretched out over a season. To this point, he has seen some great individual performances but is still waiting to see it all come together for the unit.
He has instituted a “jump on a grenade” philosophy, telling players that doing their jobs the right way will allow teammates to register sacks, record forced fumbles and create other big plays. As games and seasons unfold, that will all come around full circle to them.
“You may be the toe, you may be the toenail, you may be the heel, but you’re still a part of the body – and you’re all important,” Rumph explained.
Rumph is also taking that philosophy to stopping Mizzou this week. Rather than have a singular focus – the Tigers’ true freshman starting quarterback, Drew Lock – the Gators have spent the week learning Mizzou’s offense and figuring out how to stop it consistently. “Instead of worrying about the quarterback, we’re trying to defend the system,” he said.
Not sexy but unbelievable: The model for Rumph’s unselfish system is undoubtedly senior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard. The senior, who most certainly could’ve been at worst a second-day selection in the 2015 NFL Draft decided to return to Florida in a situation that almost certainly would have made others turn around and head out the door.
“People don’t realize the sacrifice that guy made and made without hesitation,” Rumph explained. “Here’s a guy that could’ve left early at the defensive end position. He comes back his senior year, he has new coaches. Not only does he have new coaches, he has a new system and now the staff is asking him, ‘Hey guy, I think you can play defensive tackle [instead].’
“‘Defensive end’ is sexy to those guys, it sounds cool: ‘Defensive end, I’m rushing off the edge.’ ‘Defensive tackle’ doesn’t really sound – it’s not a real sexy position. What he’s done to embrace that role is unbelievable.”
Bullard, who as a younger player was asked to move inside by former coach Will Muschamp and ex-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to help with lacking depth at the position, balked at the request back then. He learned from Muschamp and Durkin that versatility along the line was important, and slowly began to accept and then embrace the charge. To say he has continued to do that under McElwain and Rumph would be an understatement.
“I think that’s where he belongs,” said Rumph of Bullard as the three-technique. “Once he got into it and bought it, he realized, ‘This is my home.’”
Despite all that, Rumph refuses to call Bullard – he of 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss (both team-highs) – “dominant,” noting that he is “heading in the right direction” but needs to be more consistent.
“Being a senior coming back, it’s always great to coach a veteran, but it’s also good to coach a guy that’s really good on the football field and is still humble enough to take coaching, to work hard and bust his butt and try to be the best every day. That’s rewarding for me as a coach to get that effort from him every day,” Rumph explained.
So how much better can Bullard be? Well, Bullard has already eclipsed his 2014 season totals (2.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss). If he just continues on this pace, he will be in contention for single-season records in both categories, though that’s a hard ask, especially for someone spending so much time at defensive tackle.
Notes and bits
» Rumph on the maturation of redshirt sophomore DT Caleb Brantley: “I was talking to him [Tuesday], and he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, you know for the first time I’m starting to understand football. It’s starting to make sense to me; it’s starting to slow down for me.’ That’s a credit to him putting in the extra work and working and listening to the things that we’re telling him as a player. I think it’s really helping him, and I think he’s seeing so much success when he does it the right way – and he’s also seeing what happens when he doesn’t do it the right way.”
» McElwain on what’s impressed him about Brantley: “He was one of the guys when we first got here that I probably noticed from an athletic standpoint really jump out. As we went through our Swamp Life and then spring ball – to see his athletic ability, explosiveness and quick twitch, all the things that are beneficial to play that position – as we did our ratings … he was a guy that was in the top 10 of every coach. So I think that speaks for how much that we think he’s a really good player. And he’s doing a great job.”
» Rumph on redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr.: “This guy works. Probably he is the hardest-working defensive lineman I have. This kid is just, I mean, he is full-throttle. Just watch the film, watch this guy fly around, man. He just works so hard. I told him, ‘I know you want the sacks and all that stuff, but you just keep working, keep chopping, keep doing what you’re doing, and you’re going to get it. Don’t get frustrated, just keep going.’ He’s really, really bought in, and he’s doing a really good job for us.”
» Rumph on his early impressions of freshman DE CeCe Jefferson: “CeCe’s doing really well. He’s working hard. He’s trying to learn the game. There’s a lot that we throw at him. The thing about him is that he don’t look at himself as a five-star; he don’t come in with that air about him. He just comes in and works. The thing I like about him is he’s constantly talking to Bullard, he’s talking to Cox, and he’s talking to these older guys, and they’re telling him things. When I’m jumping his butt and all that stuff, screaming – I don’t scream – but talking to him real nice, those guys will come and [explain the situation]. He’s learning how to be a football player. He has the talent, but he just needs to learn the game and how to be a football player.”
» Rumph on redshirt freshman DT Thomas Holley (hip injury): “Just him being out there is a blessing. Thomas Holley putting on a uniform and going to football practice every day is a blessing. Every day that he’s out there, he should thank God coming from the injury he came from. If you had asked me before, I’d have said no way, I’d have lost my paycheck. He’s out there working. He’s getting better; he’s strong. He does all the things we ask him to do. Every day is a blessing for him. … He’s so far back football wise. This is his first time practicing since he’s been here. We’re just happy he’s out there learning, getting better. His ceiling is unbelievable. He’s getting better every day.”
» Redshirt junior defensive back Marcus Maye on redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier: “He’s doing a good job leading those guys. He’s making those throws in practice. He’s marching down the field in practice. They’re running the ball well in practice. On Saturday, it’s just showing up. The offensive line is doing a great job. You can just tell those guys are getting more comfortable each day.”
» Maye on the offensive improvement: “It’s 10 times better. … You can just tell those guys are loving what they’re doing out there, having more fun and just excited being out there in that offense.”
» Redshirt junior Rush linebacker Alex McCalister on meeting Emmitt Smith last week: “I was getting dressed and I happened to turn right and Emmitt Smith’s sitting down right there. My heart dropped for a second. I’m like, ‘Dog, Emmitt Smith is really right here in our locker room, just chilling.’ That’s big for everybody though, former Gators coming back and helping us out, talking to us here and there. Love that.”
» Senior LB Antonio Morrison on why the defense is still so dominant with a new staff: “Why would you be surprised? It’s a mentality, man. You just play as a team. That’s all it is. .. It don’t matter who the coordinator is or whatever. If you play as a team, you’re going to be good. Everybody doing the same thing, playing the same card, you’re going to have a good defense.”