The Florida Gator defense had one of its best games yet against Tennessee. A timely return from a top player and high intensity play were two big keys to the performance.
Tennessee had easily its worst offensive showing, even though they scored fewer points against West Virginia. The Gators didn’t allow the UT offense to get into a rhythm until the second half when UF had a big lead, and the myriad forced turnovers were a welcome sight.
Here is what I found from a close watch of the game film.
Last week, I spent the personnel section talking about the disappearance of the safety-as-pseudo-linebacker sets. The Gators used seven-man boxes with a safety in the second level next to a linebacker aplenty against Kentucky, but they didn’t use them at all against Colorado State.
Well, they didn’t use them against Tennessee either. It’s possible that some of the reason is the return of David Reese II, who showed himself to be the team’s best non-buck linebacker. He proved it from the first drive when he was in exactly the right position to make some run stops and made the heads up play to get the fumble from Justin Guarantano.
Just like in the Colorado State game, Todd Grantham loaded up with a 3-4 when Tennessee went into an old-school I-formation. He even employed a heavy 4-4 set at times in short yardage or on the safety drive when the Vols went jumbo. When UT’s offense beefed up, so did his defense.
However, Grantham seemed to largely trust his front six to handle standard runs, as he played two high safeties quite a bit when UT wasn’t loading up with a fullback or extra tight end(s). I think that was appropriate given how efficient Tennessee’s pass game had been going in, and the strategy paid off with UT putting up terrible efficiency rates with both the pass and run.
I am still not willing to call those sets with a safety at the second level gone and buried, but it sure looks like Grantham is not going to use them against obvious rushing sets anymore. He seems willing to roll out his bigger 3-4 front for that business. Given how much Mississippi State, LSU, Vandy, and Georgia lean on the run, we may not see those seven-man boxes from the 3-3-5 again until Missouri at the earliest.
All about leverage
Florida’s defensive front brought an intensity to the Tennessee game that it hasn’t always had this year. The primary way it manifested was in the way the linemen and linebackers were able to get leverage on Tennessee’s offensive line.
To be sure, the Volunteer line is not very good. It looked particularly bad last Saturday in part because Florida’s offensive line, which hasn’t impressed anyone in 2018, played easily its best game so far. That made the gap between the two teams’ lines seem enormous through the comparison.
Even so, Tennessee has an SEC-sized line if nothing else, something that neither Charleston Southern nor Colorado State could boast. They didn’t use their size well, though, and the Gator defenders were able to get good leverage on them.
Think about yourself right now and what you would need to do to push large, heavy box across the floor. You don’t want to stand upright and push on it from the upper half of the box. You would need to crouch some with your legs, not bend at the waist, and drive forward while pushing at the box’s center of gravity.
The physics of line play is no different. If a defensive lineman can push outward and upward on an offensive lineman to make his body more upright, that’s called standing up the offensive lineman. The offensive lineman will have poor leverage for keeping the defender at bay, just as you would have a hard time moving the heavy box while standing upright and pushing on its top half. Once a defender has stood up an offensive lineman, he can then push him to the right or left as needed to get where he needs to go.
I made a video highlighting some of the times when Gator defenders got some good leverage on Tennessee linemen. That wasn’t everything, as another clip shows T.J. Slaton using a swim move technique to blow past the Vols’ right guard. It was a clinic from the Florida defensive front.
Dialing back the blitz
The last segment of the video from the prior section is a new blitz I can’t ever remember seeing from the Gators in the past. One safety blitzes off the offense’s left and the other comes up in coverage on the right, leaving no one deep. As soon as the play begins, however, Reese hustles backwards and essentially becomes a single-high safety with Cece Jefferson dropping back from the middle of the defensive line to take Reese’s place in the linebacking corps.
It didn’t work, as the blitz overloaded the offense’s left side while leaving the right side empty. It’s the play where Guarantano escaped the pocket to his right and dove out of bounds for the first down. Jefferson wasn’t able to get to him from the middle of the defense in time, and I think Brad Stewart might’ve had a bust while double-covering a tight end crossing route with Vosean Joseph instead of staying at home on his half of the field.
That was an exception, not the rule on Saturday. Grantham was more creative with his fronts against Colorado State than he was against the Volunteers.
I suspect one reason for it is what I outlined in the previous section. The Gators’ front was whipping the Tennessee line enough that they didn’t have to do much exotic stuff to get pressure. The other I think is that, again, he was keeping two safeties back a lot against non-heavy sets to deal with what had been a highly efficient passing attack before last weekend.
The former was something of a luxury that Grantham won’t have again in the next month, but it shows one way he adjusted what he did to the circumstances in the game. And, it’s hard to argue with the results.