Florida football: Gators defense has found its groove again after midseason struggles

By Michael Phillips
November 27, 2019
Florida football: Gators defense has found its groove again after midseason struggles

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

October was not a kind month to the defense of the Florida Gators. Matchups against the best offense in the SEC in No. 2 LSU and the annual matchup against No. 4 Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, saw the Gators fall off defensively, but since that point, the team has only gotten healthier and more connected, finding its groove again on that side of the ball.

“I think we are playing to our identity,” Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said last week. “I think the guys have done a good job understanding their run fits. Haven’t really given up explosive plays, and we made some plays on some balls. Stopping the run is always critical, and we have done a good job with that, and then we have been able to get off the field on third down, so there has been a lot of three-and-outs, and we created a lot of negative yardage plays. 

“I think we had 10 [two weeks ago]. So I think a combination of being able to stop the run, creating some tackles for loss, so they get behind the sticks a little bit more, guys have done a good job of communicating and understanding the route distribution, and the to pick up routes, and really just going out playing and executing.”

Over the last two games — yes, they were against Missouri and Vanderbilt — the Gators have yet to allow a touchdown. Florida has only given up six total points over the last eight quarters and has not allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters dating back to halftime of the Georgia game.

The Gators are back to getting after the quarterback and dropping players for lost yardage. In this two game stretch, Florida has accumulated 16 tackles for loss, five sacks and three interceptions. 

“That’s the things we need to do to be successful, there’s no doubt about that,” Grantham said. “I think the biggest thing I like about our team is the amount of injuries that we’ve had, guys have continued to play and step up, and sometimes maybe it wasn’t as clean as we would like, but they kept performing and getting better and the results we’ve had the last couple of weeks is a result of their resiliency, per se. 

“I think that’s the biggest thing that with this group people ask me about is their ability to be resilient and keep playing, regardless of who’s up, who’s available, that kind of things. Play the plays.”

For as good as the defense has been this season when healthy, it’s never a finished product. The coaches are constantly making adjustments to make improvements and build depth in the backend. 

Redshirt sophomore Marco Wilson has moved inside to nickel, true freshman Kaiir Elam has filled in at cornerback and there has been some shifting up front.

“I think the depth in general — I think the way we moved and played that safety, nickel and up front — I think at all position we play a lot of guys,” Grantham said. “But any time you’re winning games, you’re going to have to rush the passer in the fourth quarter. You have to be able to rotate the guys up front to get them fresh so you can go out there and finish the game.”

As the season draws closer to its end, the seniors will be preparing for the NFL with juniors debating whether they will leave as well. For those returning, it is incumbent upon them to carry this forward to the bowl season and 2020 as a whole. That means young players stepping up and being prepared. So far, a few individuals have stood at throughout this season even if they didn’t begin the season in the starting rotation.

“I think that up front T.J. [Slaton]’s a guy that was really noticeable last week, that’s done a good job,” Grantham said. “I think when you look outside, I mean he’s a young guy, but Kaiir’s a guy. Elam’s a guy that has come on and been really productive for us. 

“We knew he was a good player, but you never know how freshmen are going to be. I think he’s really developed into being a really good player. I think if you take where he was at, say Week 1 here ’til now, he’s done a really good job of being coachable. 

“I would say those two guys probably stick out to me the most. But as a general rule, I think all our guys have done a good job of getting better in the areas we coach them to be where they are now.”

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