Evaluating the defense: There were positives

Sophomore linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe joined the defensive ends as the bright spots for a young, inexperienced Florida defense that helped the Gators to their 49-3 victory over Western Kentucky at The Swamp Saturday. Spikes finished the day with a game high 11 tackles, while Doe added seven stops of his own.

There were plenty of positives. The Florida defense forced the Hilltoppers to punt eight times, recorded five three-and-outs in ten Western Kentucky possessions, and stuffed the visitors for no gain on a fourth and one from the Florida 10-yard-line. The Gators yielded only 2-13 third down conversions, allowed only 204 yards of total offense, and gave up just three points on the day.

“Obviously, I’ve got to watch some film and ask our coaches,” Florida head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “It started off, not the way you’d like it. We gave up some yardage on that opening drive, but then they settled in and played good defense. A lot of young players got to play.”

However, there was seemingly little to cheer in terms of an interior push and pressure on the quarterback from the tackles. The outside play of defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Jermaine Cunningham was just terrific. Harvey recorded a pair of sacks for 14 yards, while Cunningham notched one sack for four yards. Reserve Carlos Dunlap looked awfully aggressive during his limited time.

“I don’t know yet, I’d have to ask coach (Charlie) Strong and coach (Greg) Mattison their thoughts,” Meyer said when asked about the lack of pressure from the middle. “I’ve seen the same thing. I’ve seen it all through two-a-days. We don’t have the great push. We’re going to have to twist and let those guys inside a little bit, especially when we get to the SEC. I thought we had great push off the edge with Derrick Harvey and Jermaine (Cunningham) looked very fast coming off the edge. That’s nothing new. We just need to create some push. We can do that with games and obviously were looking for the one to step up to get in the backfield.”

The starters at tackle were Javier Estopinan (nose) and Clint McMillan. Brandon Anwtwine received plenty of playing time in rotation. Terron Sanders and Torrey Davis playing sparingly and would have benefited from the remaining n 8:23 that was left on the clock due to lightning. True freshmen Duke Lemmons and Justin Trattou saw action during several obvious passing situations occupying the tackle positions. Of the group only Trattou recorded a sack. On the day the Gators recorded no additional quarterback pressures against a team with an offensive line that was well coached, but possessed average talent.

Things were pretty vanilla overall from the Gators perspective. You saw very few blitzes, elaborate stunts, etc. I feel pretty certain that this had more to do with the defensive staff allowing the group to do what they felt confident they could accomplish at this time. I don’t think that we’ve seen anything yet. It makes much more sense to only give them what they can handle and bring them along slowly.

While the play at tackle seemingly needs a lot of work, the play of the linebackers was very good. Again, Spike and Doe led the way with their superb play. Fellow outside ‘backer A.J. Jones had a few good moments as well. He blasted an offensive lineman or tight end when he broke off the right side and blitzed. Jones pancaked the guy and then had to take on a back, who was protecting the quarterback. Spikes and Doe were seemingly everywhere. Spikes was the lone rock in the middle of the Florida defense.

“We saw a lot of good things and a lot of mistakes,” Doe said. “In the end we’ll take a lot from it, because we’ll go back and watch the film and break it down and learn from our mistakes.”

“I feel like me, Spikes, A.J, and the whole entire defensive line are building chemistry,” he added. “We have to have chemistry. But, we also have to be in one accord with the defensive line. We saw a lot of things outside of practice that we need to see outside of practice that we need to go in and fix them and build on it. Communication. We had a couple of M.A’s, blown assignments that could have been avoided had we only communicated and made checks and things like that. ”

The secondary played a little loose on the Western Kentucky receivers who are pretty good. I would imagine we’ll see that improve once they gain experience and they have earned the trust of the coaching staff with their play. Obviously, Haden, Anderson, and Pierre-Louis have earned trust with effort.

Three different Hilltoppers quarterbacks completed 15 of 21 passes for 156 yards. There were no turnovers by the Western Kentucky quarterbacks, who again were well coached.

So, while there seems to be plenty to work on this week in practice for the Florida defense it wasn’t a bad performance by any means. The Florida defensive coaches are among the best in the nation and deservedly earned much national respect for their work last season. If anybody can solve the problems in the middle with what the talent on hand, they’ll do it.