There were a lot of disappointing elements to Florida’s big loss to Georgia. For me, the performance of the defense was chief among them.
The defense appeared to be improving when it held both LSU and Texas A&M to fewer than 20 points apiece. It’s a young unit that was always going to be prone to breakdowns, but it really did seem to find something of a groove. At least, it did once it figured out how to stop the Tigers’ jet sweeps.
The fact that the game came off of a bye week only makes it that much more disheartening that the defense was overmatched from the start. A combination of poor execution and Georgia having superior athletes is to blame.
The first big play UGA ripped off was D’Andre Swift’s 39-yard swing pass reception on the Bulldogs’ opening drive.
On the first play of the series, Florida loaded up against the run. They put eight in the box with a single deep safety and stopped Nick Chubb for a two-yard gain.
Two plays later, it was third-and-2. They dropped four to cover the three receivers and one tight end that went out for a pass on the play. Everyone else was set to blitz.
David Reese did notice Swift sneak out of the backfield and attempted to cover him. Unfortunately, Swift has the speed of a 5-star recruit while Reese does not. If the pass was to the short side of the field, Reese could’ve pushed him out of bounds. Instead, Swift has enough room to beat the linebacker around the corner.
Making matters worse, Duke Dawson blows the tackle upfield. He dives at Swift’s legs instead of trying to wrap up. The running back puts a spin move on him and picks up an extra ten yards.
The next big play that Florida allowed was Sony Michel’s 74-yard run that capped off the Bulldogs’ 21-0 run in the first quarter.
The numbers at first look favorable for a UGA run with six blockers for six men in the box. However, Jeawon Taylor sneaks up before the snap to equalize the numbers when Michel is accounted for.
Taven Bryan actually beats the right guard on the play, but he’s obstructed just enough that he can’t get to Michel in the backfield. The center and right guard take out Khairi Clark with a combo block, and they push him back far enough to collect Vosean Joseph in their path. The pulling H-back then collects Reese, opening a huge hole and making this a play that the safeties must make.
Taylor commits to the gap between the left tackle and guard, even though both Bryan and Cece Jefferson are filling that hole. He tries to get over in time, but his path is obstructed by Joseph trying to get out of traffic. Taylor makes a diving attempt at a tackle, but it’s too late.
Chauncey Gardner tries to make it over from the other safety spot, but he takes an angle that would’ve been bad even if his path didn’t include the umpire. With both safeties beat, Michel has nothing but open grass.
Michel then slammed the door on any possibility for a comeback with a 45-yard run in the third quarter.
The Gators blitz Joseph off of the edge, and he makes it into the backfield unblocked. He also overruns the play and can only watch Michel run right by him. With Joseph gone and Jefferson working towards the middle of the line, Michel decides to bounce it outside where the blitzer had come from.
It’s the secondary’s responsibility to take care of Michel again. Taylor is in the right area, but the tight end knocks him back and off balance. Marco Wilson isn’t able to disengage from the guy blocking him and makes a futile dive.
In both of these Michel runs, Florida had its last line of defense up close trying to stop the ball carrier as soon as possible. In doing so, it left no one in position to help if Michel was able to make a guy miss. As it happens, making guys miss is Michel’s specialty.
It wasn’t just big plays, though. Georgia routinely ran the ball well against the Gators. One of every three Bulldog run plays in the first half went for at least ten yards. One such run came from Nick Chubb after Feleipe Franks’s interception.
Jachai Polite has the responsibility to set the edge on his side of the line. However, the right tackle mauls him, leaving no one over there.
Reese initially plugs the gap between the right guard and tackle, giving Chubb the impetus to bounce it outside. Reese tried to stay with it but ends up overrunning the play. Gardner at least slows the ball carrier down, but Chubb was able to get past him with a fairly rudimentary juke move. Chubb hits hard enough on the traffic that Garnder forced him towards that he loses his balance and falls down. It ends up a 16-yard gain.
None of these were exotic plays. A swing pass like the one to Swift is Offense 101 for combatting a blitzing defense. The runs were basic handoff plays with no trickeration to be found. Georgia’s blockers manhandled their assignments much of the game, and the help too often took bad angles or missed tackles.
Florida doesn’t have as much talent on defense now as it usually does, and it showed big time against a well-designed and talented Georgia offense. Many of the UF defenders I mentioned here — Bryan, Reese, Joseph, Polite, Taylor — were 3-star recruits in the 247 Sports Composite. Swift, Michel, and Chubb were all 5-star prospects. While the Gators have some 3-stars who play better than that rating, Swift beating Reese to the edge shows that heady play can only make up for so much.
One of the top jobs of the next head coach is upgrading the talent on defense with real blue chip guys and not just diamonds in the rough. With the way Kirby Smart is recruiting, Georiga’s not going to fall off in the athleticism department any time soon.