Florida’s defense held Josh Heupel’s up-tempo offense to just 16 points and 387 yards of offense in week three. In the first half, the Gators held Tennessee to seven points, 122 yards (30 rushing), five first downs and 8:28 possession time.
“Coach Armstrong and the defensive staff had a terrific plan,” Napier said postgame. “We obviously spend a lost of time on these things not just in season but off season. We did our homework. We spent extensive time in the off season and certainly a little bit in training camp and obviously throughout the week. I think what gets overlooked here is maybe the scout teams and the job they did throughout the week replicating the tempo.”
Tennessee averages roughly three plays a minute, according to Napier, but the Gators’ defense was more than prepared for the challenge due to an intense practice setting created by defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong.
“His tempo that we were doing in practice was way faster, it was like an unrealistic tempo,” Edge rusher Princely Umanmielen said during Wednesday’s press conference. “So, he was just doing that to get us ready for Tennessee. And you know, Tennessee, I think there was only one play, where we weren’t lined up. And you know, we were ready because we went through it in practice.”
Umanmielen stated that Armstrong was running a play every “four to five seconds”, which caused the junior some problems in practice.
“Like to the point where if I have to go to the boundary, if the ball’s on this hash, and then the next play is on this hash I can’t even get to the other hash to get lined up yet.”
Sophomore safety Miguel Mitchell played in all 66 defensive snaps vs Tennessee, recording three tackles in the contest.
“Tennessee’s tempo really didn’t get to us,” Mitchell said. “We had a hard week — a big, hard week last week. Coach Armstrong made sure he got us right with tempo. We had a lot of reps in practice. Reps counts definitely helped.”
Mitchell says the game was slow for them due to the unrealistic practice setting.
“You turn around, another play. Turn around, another play. The game was just slow,” Mitchell added.
The intense practice reps gave Florida’s defense all the confidence they needed to take on the Vols.
“In the middle of the game he [Armstrong] walked up to us, he was like, ‘Is Tennessee’s tempo faster than mine?’ And we were all like, ‘no,’ because, you know, he just did it to a point in practice where it was unrealistic,” Umanmielen said. “But we were able to line up and practice, so we know if we can line up when he’s going unrealistically fast in practice, we were able to do it against Tennessee.”
Not only was Florida’s defense able to keep up with Tennessee’s fast pace, but the Gators’ physicality outshined the Volunteers in the contest.
“We try to harp on it, not letting them get explosive plays, making them drive the ball down the field, because I feel like anybody can drive the ball down the field but they can’t keep up with us, we’re too physical, we’re a physical defense, we execute well, making them drive the ball it’s going to work in our favor most of the time,” Mitchell said.
While the jury is still out on Tennessee’s offense, if it were that easy to stop, everybody would do it. After having the nation’s top offense in college football in 2022, the Volunteers were averaging 39.5 points and 477.5 yards per offense prior to their date with Florida in week three.
This staff’s attention to detail is something with noting, as is Armstrong’s reliance on his players’ skillset rather than his scheme.
“I think [Austin] Armstrong just really trust his players,” Umanmielen said. “He’s not gonna go out there and rely on his scheme. He, you know, relies on the player. He tells us all the time, ‘Good players make good defenses.’ So you know, when he’s calling plays, he’s calling plays based off the players he’s got and trying to do it to their strengths. He’s not calling plays relying on the scheme. You know, he really has a lot of trust in us. And he shows that in his play-calling.”
Florida’s defense ranks 10th in the FBS in total defense and 31st in points per game prior to their week four matchup with Charlotte.