The statistics put up by the Florida defense this season force you to do a double take. The Gators lead the nation is pass defense, total defense and, most importantly, scoring defense.
The Florida defense allows only 6.2 points per game to opposing offenses. The numbers are almost laughable. In fact, when told about the 6.2 points allowed, that’s all senior linebacker Ryan Stamper could do. He was able to muster a short laugh, showing he hadn’t heard of the stat before Wednesday.
“I guess that’s a great stat,” Stamper said with a smile. “We want to keep it around that.”
Going off their preseason goals, the Gators are heads and shoulders above where they wanted to be. Stamper and the Florida defense believe that if they can hold the opposing offense below 16 points every game, they give the team their best shot to win.
Of course, holding the opposition 6.2 points a game makes it that much easier.
But if you want to be a dominant defense in Gainesville, the recent standard is the 2006 defense, which led the Gators to a national championship. The benefit for the current Florida defense is that many of them were young players during that season and were able to watch leaders like Reggie Nelson and Brandon Siler go about their business.
Stamper thinks this defense has the capability to surpass them and go down as the best defense in Florida history. The Gators certainly have more in the defensive playbook this year than in 2006, and the senior thinks that gives them a chance to throw offenses off even more.
“I think we do a lot more on this defense than 2006,” Stamper said. “Like we were in a lot of base and didn’t run joker on the 2006 defense, but that defense really stopped the run. Our secondary on this defense is a lot better. We just run a lot more plays.”
The confidence on the Florida defense is especially high after holding LSU to only three points in Baton Rouge, but the Gators know the gut check is coming this weekend. Arkansas brings the SEC’s hottest offense into Gainesville for a clash against the SEC’s hottest defense.
The Razorbacks will spread the field out, sometimes with five wide receivers, and throw the ball around. Their quarterback, Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett, has a big arm and allows the Arkansas offense to work perfectly to head coach Bobby Petrino’s design.
The challenge for the Florida defense to stop the Razorbacks seems steep, but Stamper is anxious to see what the defense can do. The Arkansas offensive scheme allows Florida to run its favorite defensive scheme.
“It lets us work our joker package a lot and that’s the package where we make a lot of plays,” Stamper said. “Our secondary makes plays, we get sacks and bring pressure.”
The biggest issue for the Florida defense last season against Arkansas was stopping running back Michael Smith. He carried the ball 20 times for 133 yards, while also catching six passes for 43 yards.
“He’s real fast and a hard runner,” Stamper said. “He’s kind of small so he squeezes through the holes. He runs real hard too, so we’ve got to wrap up and read the offensive linemen.”
Mallett is also listed at 6-7, 238 pounds, making him one of the biggest quarterbacks Florida will face this season. Stamper said they know the difficulties this will add.
While the defense was watching film of the Georgia-Arkansas game last month, Stamper said he and his teammates laughed on a few plays. Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, listed at 5-11, had to jump in the air to tackle Mallet and bring him to the ground.
“They look more improved,” Stamper said. “Last year they ran a lot of the same plays, but Mallett is why they’re doing so well. He’s putting up 300 yards a game and they’re scoring a lot. It’s going to be a big time challenge for us. It’s probably the best offense we’ll play all season.”
The Florida defense knows it has to be ready for the challenge.