The Florida Gators defense had a masterful performance last week against Eastern Michigan. Shutting out an opponent for the first time in two seasons, the Gators held the Eagles to 125 yards of total offense, with five turnovers, including freshman Duke Dawson returning an interception for a touchdown. The Eagles also had the same number of first downs as they had three-and-outs- seven. Florida’s defense will look to continue their strong showing Saturday night against Kentucky an SEC East opponent that looks improved from last year.
Wednesday, defensive coordinator DJ Durkin met with the media for his weekly press conference as the team prepares for conference play.
The Gators announced Wednesday that freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a shoulder injury last week. Jackson will undergo surgery next week to repair the labrum, which was repaired previously but keeps slipping out. Despite a young and unproven secondary, Durkin said the team will have enough players to withstand the loss.
“I feel bad for J.C.,” he said. “He worked hard coming in here to put himself in a position to play and help us as a freshman. For him, he’s a quick healer. It’s a setback for him, but just a minor one. He’ll work through it and be fine. But in the meantime, the good part is we’ve been rotating a bunch of guys so we’ll be able to handle it.”
Facing a mobile quarterback
Florida’s defense had three sacks and nine tackles for a loss against Eastern Michigan through an aggressive front seven that kept pressure on the quarterback throughout the day. Durkin said the sacks were a byproduct of affecting the quarterback, which can be done in many ways. Florida’s front four will have a big task ahead of them containing quarterback Patrick Towles, a 6-5, 238-pound quarterback who has proven he can run as well. Durkin said the team has an advantage having already practiced against a mobile quarterbacks.
“I mean, going back a couple of years ago, there wasn’t many of those offenses in our conference,” he said. “And we weren’t one. So that was an oddball thing for us. We had to spend extra time to work on that to face spread-type offenses. And again spread is a broad-based thing. You can’t put all teams that play out of the shotgun with one back in the same category. They’re not. But there’s a lot of similar looks and things we see now more often in practice than we’ve ever saw before and we see it more often in our conference. That’s really what our conference has gone to now.”
Limiting the big play
In addition to containing Towles, the Gator defense will look to stop Kentucky’s explosive running game. The Wildcats had six plays of 40 yards or more last week, getting around the perimeter the same way that Eastern Michigan was able to at times. Durkin said the similarity in offenses and containing the outside has been a point of emphasis this week.
“Linebackers and DBs, all the same, just, you know, how we’re playing our perimeter blocks, how we’re leveraging things, you know, how we’re playing cut blocks, those sort of things, that was something we needed to improve on coming out of the game and it just so happens the team we’re playing does a really good job of that,” Durkin said.
Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp has caught garnered the attention of Florida fans with some trash talk this week. “It’s going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces,” the Deland native said when asked about returning to his home state. Despite potential bulletin-board material, Durkin said there is no extra fire added in preparation for the Wildcats.
“Our preparation is the same no matter what,” he said. “I think our guys are really motivated and excited to go out and play in front of a great home crowd, a night game and SEC opener. I’m not sure anyone needs more motivation from things like that. We take our preparation day-to-day.”