When Steve Spurrier arrived at the University of Florida he didn’t only change the culture of Florida football for years to come but annually made Florida one of the premier offensive units in the nation. The expectations for the Florida offense have not faded since his departure; they are still alive and there are still Florida fans waiting for the return of an offensive juggernaut.
In this new era of highflying, up-tempo offenses, you don’t see too many elite defenses. Typically, especially west of the Mississippi River, the game is turned into a contest of who can outscore whom. Here in Gainesville, that has not been the case. A lot of credit has been given to Will Muschamp for his efforts building a top-flight defensive unit, but we can go all the way back to 2006 and each season since then, save 2007, the Florida defense has been one of the better units in college football. This year’s defense is no different.
Because of Florida’s reputation, they may never be considered as a program with an elite defense year in and year out. Sometimes, it can be talked about as though it is a bad thing, because of the state of the offense and the expectation of what a Florida football team should look like. But this defense is getting some more help than previous years.
“Yeah it’s always good to have help on the offense. Last year, the offense struggled a lot. Now that we’ve got help from the offense, it’s good. It’s good to have.” Cornerback Quincy Wilson said.
The offense will get better as season’s progress, but I believe a new standard is forming here in Gainesville. Gone are the days of giving the defense a pass, because the offense made up for the mistakes, now we expect this defense to shut it down, regardless of the output from the offense.
Currently the Gators rank 5th nationally in total defense (280 ypg), 4th in scoring defense (14.4 ppg), 10th in rushing defense (105.1 ypg), tied for 8th in sacks per game (3.1), 9th in pass efficiency defense and could throw out a lot more stats to show the dominance of the Florida defense. This is becoming the norm.
Because of the recruiting base in the state and in the south, Florida should always have quality athletes on that side of the ball, but this particular group is special considering the expectation of performance that is needed from them for this team to win week in and week out.
There is a special appreciation for this year’s team because of the character they have displayed. Jonathan Bullard chose to come back for his senior year, passing up on the NFL draft for another year in school. Antonio Morrison being the face of this defense because of his leadership, but mainly because of his work ethic to get back on the field after a devastating injury. Marcus Maye and Brian Poole, both of whom came in as top tier prospects at their position, have done whatever has been asked of them to make this defense elite. Jalen Tabor, who has grown up since a few off the field incidents to become a leader in the secondary. Jarrad Davis, who was not as heralded as other linebackers on this team coming out of high school, has quickly become one of the leaders on the entire team. I could go on and on, and have yet to mention the acts of Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal, who are both sure fire early round draft picks next spring if they choose to leave school early.
Let’s not forget new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, the Minister of Mayhem, who came over from Mississippi State and inherited a talented and already successful group. He may not get the credit he deserves, but he has brought a new energy and aggression to this defense, that has caused more mayhem for opposing offenses.
We have all come to believe in the defenses’ ability to shut down opponents. Sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor believes this defenses has put themselves in select company. “I think we’ve got the best defense. Whatever the best defense is, I think we’re the standard of defense.”
I believe this defense cherishes the opportunity to be in this position at a program rich in offensive tradition. They may have come to the forefront because of the dim light on the offense, but this defense truly is one of the best in the nation and could very well carry Florida to a championship season.