Communication breakdown: Gators defense can improve

Communication is instrumental in any relationship. It can be the difference between a happy marriage, or one that ends in divorce. It can be the difference between keeping a job, or getting fired.

In regards to Florida Gators football, it can mean the difference between winning, or losing.

While keeping an open line of communication between coaches and players is paramount, on-field communication between defensive backs and linebackers is something defensive coordinator Dan Quinn emphasized during the No. 10 Gators’ preparations to host No. 4 LSU at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Even in a 38-0 win against Kentucky on Sept. 22, there were miscommunications on the second level — between defensive backs and linebackers. On one play, where three Wildcats ran a triple-crossing pattern, one receiver sprung wide open behind the coverage.

Fortunately for Florida, Kentucky’s offense was operating with a back-up quarterback, and Morgan Newton overthrew the wide-open receiver.

Still, had the pass been completed, it may have resulted in a touchdown and prevented Florida’s first shutout against an SEC opponent since a 52-0 win against Mississippi State on Sept. 29, 2001.

“I think from our communications standpoint on the back end, we’d still like to see that improve,” Quinn said Wednesday. “You know, where you play some no-huddle teams that move fast and that type of thing. For the communication, we’d still like to see that improve.”

Florida is fourth in the Southeastern Conference and 25th nationally in pass defense, permitting 185.8 yards per game. The Gators are second in the conference, behind LSU, and fourth nationally in yielding just 4.8 yards per pass attempt. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 51.3 percent of their passes, which only trails LSU in the SEC and is 13th nationally.

However, the communication Quinn is talking about does not relate only to pass coverage. It’s pre-snap calls by safeties Josh Evans and Matt Elam. It’s also about knowing the overall defensive scheme in general.

Players need to have a plan and understand their role better before, and after, the ball is snapped.

“The communication could be in a blitz of where we’re coming down to or in the run game of where we’re coming down to,” Quinn said. “So communication maybe in an overall general thought as opposed to just related to the pass game.”

Overall, Quinn has been pleased with the way his defense has been physical in its pass coverage. He said the most crucial breakdowns in communication have come between “a linebacker to a safety or from a cornerback to a safety.”

LSU is a run-first offense, ranking 18th nationally with 229.6 yards per game, but communication still will be a factor Saturday in what Quinn calls the “backend” of the Gators’ defense. There’s the ‘front 7’ of four defensive linemen and three linebackers. The backend is basically the ‘back 7,’ consisting of three linebackers and four defensive backs.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,016 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Despite LSU’s penchant for running the ball (71.2 percent of the time on first down), Mettenberger will take “some shots down the field,” Quinn said, so playing sound, fundamental defense will be important.

“You just have to be on it in terms of your communication and your job, keeping your eyes in the right spot,” Quinn said. “At the end of the day, your responsibility and your job, making sure you carry it out.

“That’s the big message when you face a team that has the ability to do different things, ‘Hey, I’m going to take care of my job and my assignment.’”

That all boils down to constant communication.

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.