Throughout the season, the Florida Gators’ defense has been described as many things.
The title given to them by Will Muschamp? Not so much.
After the offense turned the ball over on downs early in the second quarter, the defense got the ball back, forcing a fumble on the ensuing drive. Plays like the one in Saturday’s 34-10 victory led to Muschamp’s title for his defenders.
“Well, you know, I always tell our guys, ‘You’re the firemen, you got to go put the fire out.’” Muschamp said. “You know, you got to go step up and make a play and I just feel like when you’re first-and-goal inside the five you going to go for it.”
Coming into the week, the focus on offense was on Commodores quarterback Johnny McCrary and running back Ralph Webb, a Gainesville High grad passed over by Florida. Florida’s defense was able to contain both players, holding Webb to 83 yards rushing on 16 carries, while McCrary threw for 160 yards and two interceptions.
Florida’s defense has come a long way since the school-record 672 total yards allowed against Alabama. Fixing technique, positioning and effort, the Gators have gotten an improved effort from the defenders, not giving up as many large plays through the air on crucial downs
“We’re definitely growing every week, you know, because against Alabama we had a lot of coverage busts,” Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. “We still had a lot today too, that we know about, so we got to fix that, but, you know, we’re progressing, we’re coming along.”
The improved communication has led to a strong secondary that had five pass break ups and two interceptions against the Commodores, including a one-handed grab by corner Jalen Tabor that has already has many calling for it to be in SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. The defense also forced two fumbles, and overall the team was able to create 13 points off the turnovers.
While the defense is improving, the team knows they have things they need to continue to work on. Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said the team came out slow early, and will need to have a different mental approach going forward, as late-game situations will require them to make plays.
“The last two games they scored on the last drive where, you know, we got a comfortable lead and people were letting up a little bit,” Bullard said. “So we’ve got to work on, you know, finishing a game and starting a game fast.”
After an early season that had some confusion on both sides of the ball, it seems the Gators are now settled into their roles and playing as a unit. The direction of the defense is set now, according to Hargreaves III.
“I say that we fixed some things,” Hargreaves III said. “I don’t say it’s a completely new team but we understand where to go now.”
With three games left on the schedule, including contests against South Carolina and Florida State, the Florida defense has plenty more opportunities to put out fires that the team needs them to.