With all the talk around Gator Nation being about Florida’s sloppy play in their win against the Pirates last week, how were they going to respond in their first SEC and first away game of the year?
As far as the offense is concerned, few questions were answered, with Coach Mac yet to officially answer the largest looming question of the starting quarterback for the season. On defense, however, the secondary played a tight performance and surrendered far fewer yards through the air this week to the more balanced attack of the Wildcats. While the defense did give up more than the -13 rushing yards they surrendered against ECU, they held a much better rushing attack in Stanley “Boom” Williams and company to less than three yards per carry. This week, BDN answered the questions asked of them and began to hit their stride just as SEC play opened.
Being the only of the three sides of the ball to not draw Coach Mac’s ire after the seven point win over the Pirates last week, it may have seemed easy for the defense to be the only ones feeling good about themselves heading into Kentucky. Instead, the secondary held a players-only meeting to address their play that had them at the glaring pass defense rank of 88th. While they could have used all the excuses in the world- of which there were potentially many- they did what McElwain said the truly great players do. That is to perfect their craft.
Despite a hungry and confident Kentucky team that is much more talented than in past years, the Florida Gators held the Wildcats to a total of 241 yards. 126 of those yards were surrendered to Kentucky’s passing attack, 220 less than Florida surrendered last week. The Gators also allowed 243 less yards through the air in Saturday night’s game than they did in last year’s matchup against a much less experienced Patrick Towles.
Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops having stated earlier in the week that this year’s edition of the Kentucky football team is better than last year, it is impressive to see the Gators defense come out and shut down the Wildcats’ offense despite offensive problems of their own. As I emphasized in my discussion of last week’s game against the Pirates, the fates of the offense and defense are linked and the play of one side of the ball directly affects the play of the other side of the ball.
Nowhere was it more evident Saturday night than on Florida’s first touchdown drive and on Kentucky’s second field goal drive. Florida’s first touchdown drive barely needs to be called a drive as the drive began on the Wildcats’ 19 thanks to a tip-drill interception and 53 yard return by Gators Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Five plays later, Florida found the end zone on what would be one of the only touchdowns of the night.
As for Kentucky’s second field goal, that was the result of a slightly under thrown pass to the corner of the end zone by Will Grier in the third quarter. A score that would have put Kentucky on the ropes down 21-3 heading into the fourth quarter, it was instead an interception on a first down. Kentucky proceeded to drive down the length of the field after new life had been breathed into them and score the second of their three field goals on the night. That was one of only two 10-plus play drives by Kentucky that was set up by the turnover. Of the two occasions, the first was an example of how the defense can directly set up a score, and the second was an example of how miscues by the offense can directly affect the score in the favor of the other team.
Now, while the offense did make a mistake and made a few others on the night, that was to be expected of an offense that is in its infancy compared to what it will be in year two under Coach Mac. As for the defense, it’s full-grown. It’s just perfecting itself now. As Florida jumps into the meat of its schedule with home match ups against Tennessee and the impressive Ole Miss Rebels, the Gators merely need to not turn the ball over and to push their time of possession numbers up by a few more minutes. With this defense, if the offense can stick to that game plan and continue to improve week by week under Coach Mac and Coach Nuss’ tutelage, the Gators will have a chance in every remaining game this year.
As Florida hosts Tennessee this upcoming weekend, “DBU” will have yet another chance to prove why they believe they are the best against a greatly improved Volunteers team that is predicated on the passing game. It will also be a good chance for the young defensive front that feasted for six sacks on the Wildcats to show that they are ready to live up to their potential against a solid running game in Jalen Hurd and company.
- Florida defeated Kentucky 14-9 on Saturday night in a newly renovated, 63,000-plus strong Commonwealth Stadium
- The Gators’ stout defense did not allow a touchdown on the night, a far cry from the 30 points surrendered last year in Gainesville.
- Quincy Wilson had the game clinching interception in the final seconds to give the Gators their 29th straight win over the Wildcats.
- The Gators’ defense finished the night with a roughly 70 percent success rate per play (excluding Florida’s one defensive penalty).