Photo Credit: Zach Goodall
It's not always pretty, but the Florida Gators have quietly built a consistent, steady defense this season. No, it's not a world-beater, but the Gators have positioned themselves to win games with the defense, rather than in spite of the defense as was the case for much of last season.
Florida has had to overcome much more adversity than it did last year, too. While, yes, the coronavirus pandemic impacted all FBS teams in college football last year, and that was shown throughout the season, especially within the SEC on defense, Florida still didn't have as many injuries, and changes made that it has had this season.
Early into the year, the Gators lost its starting cornerback in Jaydon Hill, and a couple of weeks into the season, Florida lost its starting linebacker and leader on defense in Ventrell Miller. Several other players have been banged up, too, including BUCK Brenton Cox and star cornerback Kaiir Elam.
The team also lost redshirt freshman DB Kamar Wilcoxson before the first game this year. He was expected to see his role increase within the Florida defense this season.
Still, Florida has remained consistent through SEC play as of late, surrendering more than 20 points to just one team - the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide, 31 points. In fact, through the team's three SEC contests following that game, Florida has surrendered just 27 points, including a shutout against Vanderbilt last weekend.
Really, the defense has given up just 20 points considering seven of the points scored in the Kentucky matchup was a special teams error.
Certainly, Florida isn't one of the top-ranked defenses in the country, but it has become much improved, now ranked No. 28 in the nation. And while it's not incredible, the team's pass defense ranks No. 44 overall, a dramatic increase from its rank of No. 100 last season.
Florida also ranks No. 27 in run defense, allowing just 108.5 yards per game on the ground. That currently ranks fifth in the SEC behind Georgia, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama.
For Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the team's defense has remained consistent despite the number of injuries due to the depth the team was able to play during the first couple of games of the season. Playing the young guys, such as CB Jason Marshall Jr. has allowed them to stay ahead of the curve.
The team has also done plenty of work in cross-training its players, that's why you've seen guys like Jeremiah Moon manning the middle of the defense, and doing a stellar job of it at that.
"I think our guys have continued to work each week to get better and are taking coaching," Grantham said on Monday when asked about the team's consistency despite its injuries this year.
"They’ve worked really hard on things as far as we’re hard to run on, we’ve been able to limit people’s ability to run on us. We’ve limited the explosive plays as far balls thrown over our heads.
"Even if you go to last week’s game, the team we played last week is really the team we played from two years ago. Our corners who are freshmen actually went out and there we multiple shots down the field on them and they handled it."
In reference to the team's game against Kentucky, Florida allowed just two big passing plays, a gain of 15 and 41 yards, and two big rushing plays, gains of 16 and 12 yards on the day. Overall, the defense was able to hold the Wildcats to six completions on the day, and 74 yards total passing.
"I think your ability to handle those shot plays and the deep balls has allowed us not to give up explosive plays which makes them run more plays and you find a way to get stops," Grantham added. "Our guys work well together, they work as a unit and we’ve found ways to get stops without giving up explosive plays. If you do that, you got a chance to be hard to score on.”
While the Gators defense has been oft-criticized (with good reason), they've stepped up to the plate this year, and the team's coaching staff and effort from players have been one of the primary reasons for that.
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