Vanderbilt coach James Franklin isn’t sure how or where to attack Florida’s defense.
After watching a replay of the Gators’ 14-6 win against LSU — a game he described as a “defensive battle” — he doesn’t see any weak links in Florida’s defensive armor.
“A lot of defenses try to take something away, these guys try to take everything away,” Franklin said on vucommodores.com video.
The Commodores (2-3 overall, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play) are coming off of a confidence-boosting 19-15 win at Missouri. They host the No. 4 Gators (5-0, 4-0) at 6:02 p.m. on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.
While Franklin’s impressed with Florida in all three facets — offense, defense and special teams — the Gators’ stingy defense poses the most daunting task for his squad to combat.
Franklin explained further what he meant by Florida’s ability to “try to take everything away.”
“They press on the outside to take all of the short, gimme throws away,” Franklin said. “They don’t have a ‘bend-but-don’t-break defense.’ They load up the box to take away every number or angle or leverage that you would have, so it’s challenging.”
The challenge begins up front, where Franklin said Sharrif Floyd stands out the most because he’s “a year older” and has benefitted by moving from defensive end to defensive tackle this season. Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn runs a hybrid 4-3, 3-4 scheme that relies heavily on penetration by the defensive line.
“Their front four is extremely good, and they held LSU to under 200 yards total offense,” Franklin said during a press conference this week. “They’ve also held opponents three times without a score in the second half this year.”
Those statistics speak for themselves, but here are a few more:
Florida is third in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 11.4 points per game, and fourth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 284 yards per game. The Gators also are third in the SEC in turnover margin as the defense has seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
On third downs, Florida is the best in the conference. Opponents are converting just 25.3 percent of their third-down tries. That’s a whopping four percent lower than the next closest defense, which is Alabama at 29.5 percent.
Much of that dominance has come in the second half as the Gators’ have been able to wear down opponents. They’ve rallied from halftime deficits for three of their four conference victories, something the team credits to first-year strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman.
Florida has allowed just 13 points in the second half this season, which leads the nation. The Gators also are the only Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team that hasn’t allowed a single point in the fourth quarter.
It’s a night-and-day improvement from a year ago when the Gators were 0-5 when trailing at halftime. Florida’s players were the ones worn down in the second half.
In fact, Vanderbilt scored all three of its touchdowns after halftime before falling 26-21 at Florida last season.
“The biggest difference in their defense this year is their depth,” Franklin said. “They’ve always recruited well, but they have a two-deep now that they’re very confident with. They’re able to rotate people in there and keep them fresh, which makes them even more challenging.
“There are no gimmes; it’s tough to get any advantage against them.”
Here’s the video of Franklin’s interview, courtesy of VU Communications: