The Florida Gators have a long-standing tradition of putting outstanding defenses on the field year in and year out. Even in the toughest of seasons, there was one thing to always count on, and that was great defense.
When the offense couldn’t produce, the defense was seemingly there every time to get the ball back when it counted.
That tradition died in 2017.
While the Gators grabbed the second-most interceptions in the SEC with a strong backfield, they forced the least number of fumbles. It just wasn’t a point of emphasis in the previous defense.
When Todd Grantham took the reins, that mindset made a complete 180.
His defense is based on attacking, which creates more opportunities to force turnovers. Along with the difference in scheme, there are more drills incorporated in practice to get guys focused on taking the football away.
He tells them creating turnovers will win ball games.
“That’s the thing, as far as Coach Grantham teaches and preaches it every single day,” said junior defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton. “He’s like, ‘One, create turnovers every single day, whatever you can.’ Instead of our cornerback running to the ball every single play, you know when they throw a deep ball the corner and the safety is running to the ball, he wants all of us running to it. You all want to create turnovers. You never know. You can tackle a guy and a ball is fumbled. Instead of having just two or three guys around the ball, you want all 11.”
The Gators have even started using incentive, not only for creating turnovers, but simply for being the player who gives it everything he’s got in practice.
It is called “the juice guy”. And a new one is recognized every day after practice.
“Recently we’ve been doing this thing called “the juice guy”,” Clayton said. “You know, who makes the most plays, who has the most juice, the up-tempo guy at practice. And then Coach Grantham, he’ll do this thing, like he’ll get a siren and he’ll play a song like, ‘oh who’s the juice guy of the day?’ And he’ll put them on the screen.”
All of these things are ways of bringing the team closer together, and that is something that has been missing for a while at Florida.
Players want to go out and make plays and feel like they have the support of their team behind them. That may not have been the case a season ago, but now, it is no longer an option.
“Whenever somebody gets a pick or anything in practice, you’ll see not only the guys on the field, you’ll see the guys on the sideline just screaming up the field, screaming up the field, just congratulating the guy,” Clayton said. “I don’t think we had that last year, you know, it was like we had a lot of individualism last year. Like guys that make plays, nobody would clap them up, but the biggest difference of last year, we’re all together. Everybody’s together. We’re a family. It’s never been that way before.”
From changes to the style of play to changes in mentality, the Gators are in a much better position to bring the defensive tradition back this season, starting with creating turnovers.