In the national championship season of 2008, the Florida Gators, led by the venerated Ahmad Black with seven picks, made it seem as if opposing quarterbacks were throwing to the guys in the Orange and Blue at times. The team as a whole hauled in 26 interceptions, or nearly two every game.
In 2009, the team slipped a little in the national polls as well as in the interception count, although a total of 20 on the season is by no means a disreputable mark.
In fact, the most recent Gators teams would gladly take the 20 from three years ago, or the 22 of 2010, to make up for the embarrassingly low total of only eight a season ago.
Two games into the very young season, the highly touted Gators defensive backfield, led by future NFL star – you read that here first – Matt Elam, as well as talented cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson have collected only one interception as a unit.
You don’t need a calculator to tell you that is plain old not good. The team’s cornerbacks and safeties are currently intercepting passes at a far lower clip than the two per game fans and players enjoyed through the team’s championship years.
That is not to say, of course, that the team cannot, or is not capable of putting up some big numbers. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been harping on creating more turnovers since Day 1.
“In terms of takeaways, we talk about unconscious effort, maybe an overthrown ball over the middle of the field where the safety gets it. He still gets the interception, but nothing really created it other than an errant throw. Then there’s conscious effort takeaways. It was a batted ball or you took the extra step to get your hand on it … I’ve been charting that every day … each meeting I start with the takeaways of the day, and we talk about that … I guess from my standpoint, I’ve been practicing it and talking about it as much as I can. The players have done a good job on the field of doing that. It’s been a good competition to create takeaways.”
So, where are the two interceptions per game the fans had grown so accustomed to only a few short years ago?
Where are the guys flying around the field, making D-1 wide receivers look like the Geek Squad?
With ten returning starters on defense, where is the physically overwhelming, totally dominating force we were promised before the season started?
The shorter answer is fairly, well, short: It’s right there in front of you. On the field, on your TV screen, on the radio, streaming live on your computer, phone, tablet, whatever. The team has yet to give up a passing touchdown and has made the stops when they have had to to win football games.
The long answer, however, is one that a Ph.D. student could write a thesis on.
Seeing as yours truly is far from an academic, we’re going to somewhere along the lines of Goldilocks, and provide the medium-sized answer.
Like any good fairy tale, this story begins with the three bears up front, Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Omar Hunter. Through the first two games of the season, neither Bowling Green nor Texas A&M have wanted anything to do with stealing any of the porridge of these beastly gentlemen and have thus created game plans to try to negate their ferocious pass rush.
Instead of allowing Matt Schilz and Johnny Manziel, BGSU and A&M’s quarterbacks, respectively, to sit back in the pocket to give the play some time to develop, the coaching staffs of each program instead opted to run a series of quick slants and screen passes. The ball was out of the hands of the quarterback too quickly for the team’s bears to try to put pressure on either of them.
The end result was a lot of small completions that proved difficult to defend. On the flip side, those quick dinks and dunks did not eat up chunks of yardage, nor did they put very many points on the board.
Thus, the mere one interception on the season. Opposing offenses have just been stealing a tiny bit of porridge and then skittishly running out of the house.
Even Goldilocks had more fortitude.
This weekend, however, the Gators can expect to face an offense that will be playing more to its liking. Taylor Bray, Tennessee’s star quarterback, is finally healthy after missing large chunks of time over his first two seasons with injuries. He has already thrown for 643 yards and six touchdowns in the Vols’ first two games.
His numbers and his talent have made him extremely confident. He will have no problem walking into the Gators’ kitchen, eating all their porridge, then lounging in the biggest bed in the bedroom and then instead of falling asleep, laughing in your face.
His two star wide receivers, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, are 6-foot-4 and 6-3, respectively, and have combined for 26 catches, 383 yards and four touchdowns in only two games thus far.
You guessed it, since their Vols have lost seven straight games to the Gators, they would love to steal themselves some porridge, too.
Marcus Roberson, all 6-0, 178 pounds of him, is excited for the challenge, however. He is looking forward to the chance to face an offense that is not scared of the Gators defense. He wants the Volunteers to come into their kitchen, he wants them to look deep – to throw deep.
The only man on the team with an interception on the year is ready to make a few more plays of his own. As any good cornerback should, Roberson does not hope passes are thrown his way. Rather, he invites the deep ball.
“Their guys will go up and get the ball. They’re nice. We’re all looking forward to it. It’s a big challenge for us as a group. Just looking to get the ball out … We like that in the secondary. I trust all the guys that coach plays.”
It is going to take trust, yes, but so much more. It is going to take instincts, a sound game plan and of course, the in-game and halftime adjustments that were so successfully run by the Gators against Texas A&M.
The Gators are used to the fiery heat of competition by playing in The Swamp. This game is going to be a hot one, too, and Marcus Roberson and Co. are excited to force the Vols out of their kitchen.