Florida Friday Final: Morrison, Davis help Gators prepare for defensive showdown with Vanderbilt

By Adam Silverstein
November 6, 2015

We’re back with Florida Football Friday Final, where OnlyGators.com takes a last look at the No. 10 Florida Gators as they prepare an important showdown against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

Florida (7-1, 5-1 SEC) and Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3 SEC) will do battle in a game that could decide the SEC East for the Gators or prove that the hosts are not yet where they need to be either within the division or college football as a whle

This week on OnlyGators.com

Practice update: Preparation good but Florida’s offense must improve against tough Vanderbilt defense
Practice update: Gators confident entering showdown with ‘Dores
Injury update: Offensive linemen injuries could hurt UF
Pulling the right strings: Jim McElwain has Gators focusing on ‘the now’ and winning because of it

Restore the order: For the Gators, this phrase is as much about winning the division and league crown as it is capturing victories in games that it has no business losing. Just two years ago, Florida saw its 22-game win streak against Vanderbilt fall by the wayside in embarrassing fashion – on homecoming in Gainesville. The Gators, which are 36-2-10 all-time against the Commodores, had not fallen to their SEC East rivals since 1988.

That is all in the past now. UF can clinch its first SEC East title since 2009 with a win on Saturday. A dominant victory, coupled with some upsets, and it could find itself in the top six of the College Football Playoff Rankings. Though Florida still has a long way to go this season, beating Vanderbilt would prove that the team has legitimately restored the order to the SEC East and brought a winning tradition back to The Swamp.

Defense vs. defense: Don’t get it twisted – the Gators are not the only team in Saturday’s game with a stellar defense. As head coach Jim McElwain has been referencing all week, the Dores’ D ain’t nothing to mess with. Florida’s offense may very well have a rough go of it on Saturday, but in order to overcome that, the Gators’ own defense simply has to play up to the level it has to this point in the season.

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While it was the secondary billed as the nation’s best ahead of the season, it has actually been a pair of linebackers in senior Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis that have made all the difference for Florida.

“Those guys are the heartbeat of the defense,” explained defensive line coach Chris Rumph on Wednesday. “You got all these other fancy parts, but you see Antonio out there, you see a guy coming off the type of injury that he had. This guy could’ve hung it up and said, ‘I’m just going to get better, get ready for the NFL.’ He decided to come out there and give it his all. He’s not using his past injury as an excuse. And J.D. is running right there with him.”

The linebackers have been serving as a great example for the whole team but especially the defense, which is singing their praises from the secondary all the way up to the defensive line.

“Tone and J.D., those guys are crazy. I like having them two out there. The just run around like I’ve never seen before. They really have bad intentions when they get to the ball,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said.

“Those two guys are just tremendous in how they go about their work. A lot of people see on Saturday what they put on film, but we as players, we see what they go through every day. Tone was in the weight room every day after his surgery. He wasn’t supposed to be back. Him and J.D. just every day in the training room getting back right, lifting, they’d watch film after. Saturday is just a product of what they do during the week.”

Added junior defensive lineman Joey Ivie: “They mean a lot. Those are two guys that work hard every day at practice. They take everything serious from the meeting room to the weight room. They do all the extra things. I see those two guys in the ice tub every day. Those are two guys that everyone can look at that are accountable for everything they do.”

Rumph said he takes every opportunity he can to talk with Davis, who he described as “wired the right way to play [defense]. He couldn’t play offense,” Rumph continued. “He’s wired right – off the field he’s serious and about his business, taking care of his body, making sure he goes in for treatment. He’s lifting, he’s drinking and eating the right things. He’s a pro. He’s easy to coach. You just tell him, ‘This is the game plan, this is what they’re doing.’ He’s going to study film, ask questions. He’s easy to coach, in my opinion.”

So while the secondary is doing its best to lock down wide receivers and senior DL Jonathan Bullard and company are doing what they can to rush the quarterback and get him off his spot, it is Morrison and Davis serving as the linchpin keeping the entire defense together.

The only question that remains is whether Florida’s stellar defensive unit is good enough to help it win a championship – league or national.

“We’ll find out at the end of the year. They’re playing pretty good; they’re doing some good things,” Rumph insisted. “But you got to close the deal and we’ve got some ballgames left. We’ll see what happens. Do we have the parts? Yeah, I think we do, but we’ll see.”

Notes and bits:

Tabor on junior safety Keanu Neal: “He’s such a nice guy, like well-spoken, grounded, nice, doesn’t curse, very straight-forward, very nice guy. He won’t kill a butterfly, he’s that type of guy. But when he gets on the field, he just be killing people. It’s like he’s got a switch on and off the field. When he gets on the field, nobody wants to see that man coming downhill.”

Redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee on whether getting hurt in 2014 worked out for the best: “There have been a lot of positives that came out of it. You can look at the negatives that happened last year, but there have been a lot of fulfilling moments this year and a lot of things that sort of came full circle that I’m glad I’ve been able to be a part of.”

McGee on freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway: “That Tennessee touchdown, I think he started to realize what he could do out there and be comfortable. Each week it’s fun to see what that guy does and just the way eh goes about what he does, too. He’s a guy that loves football, and he loves his team. He’s fun to be around, has a good energy that he gives off to the guys, which the public doesn’t get to see as much being around him every day. When that guy makes plays, it’s something that’s fun to watch and you can really only smile.”

Redshirt senior transfer quarterback Josh Grady (who joined Florida from Vanderbilt) on the Dores beating the Gators in 2012: “To us, beating Florida was our Super Bowl. When we were able to beat them, that was like winning the national championship for us. For me being able to have that experience, I feel like winning the SEC Championship would be another level – winning the East at least. So that’s something we’re striving for this weekend.”

Redshirt senior WR Valdez Showers on Florida exuding confidence: “The way we prepare, we should all be confident, to be honest with you. It’s coming from him first. They start off the game plan, they relay it to us, we go out and practice it each and every day because we wait to gain the same confidence he has.”

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