While the Gators allowed Vanderbilt to move the ball on them more than they’d have liked, they certainly can’t blame their safeties for the performance.
Rashad Torrence and Trey Dean were outstanding. It was unquestionably the best game of Torrence’s career, and it’s in the discussion for Dean’s best game as well.
Torrence entered Saturday with his career high for tackles in a game at eight. He blew that mark out of the water by halftime, as he racked up 13 tackles in the first half against the Commodores. He finished the game with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for losses.
He displayed excellent pursuit, closing speed and a knack for knowing where the ball was going before it went there. He was immune from the tackling issues that plagued the rest of the defense.
Dean, meanwhile, did most of his best work against the pass. He played tight coverage throughout the game, broke up a couple of passes and intercepted an overthrown pass in the third quarter. He also tied for third on the team with seven tackles.
“Trey has done a really good job at playing the ball,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “If you look at some of the plays, particularly in the second half, his ability to what we call glove the ball. He’s playing tight coverage, they throw, he gets his hand on the ball, incomplete pass. He got his hands on a lot of balls, and he did get a pick.
“So, the thing I’ve seen with Trey is that he’s improved his ability to make plays on balls that are thrown down the field, and I’ve noticed that in practice, and it showed up in the game, which is great to see because he’s such a hard worker.”
For the season, Dean ranks second on the team with 41 stops, which is the third-most tackles by an SEC defensive back. He also leads the Gators and is tied for second in the conference with five passes broken up.
Torrence’s career day against Vanderbilt shot him up all the way from seventh to third on the team with 33 tackles.
Torrence and Dean have known each other since they played on the same 7-on-7 team when Dean was a senior and Torrence was a sophomore in high school. That connection allows them to have great chemistry with each other and feed off of the big plays that the other makes.
“That’s like my real brother,” Torrence said. “Blood can’t make us no closer, for real. Us being in that back end together is surreal because I’ve known him before Florida, so it’s kind of like matching energy. He makes a good play, I want to make a good play and vice versa.”
Grantham said that Torrence’s and Dean’s improved play this season shows you how important the offseason is. They didn’t get any semblance of a normal offseason last year due to COVID, and they both had some ups and downs in reserve roles. Now they’re playing as well as any safety tandem in the SEC.
“Trey had played a lot of snaps for us; he had never really played safety,” he said. “So, your angles are different, your leverages are different, you’re working away from the ball. He’s worked really hard because he’s a conscientious guy.
“When you look at Rashad, he was a true freshman last year, and I think the second series of the Ole Miss game we had a targeting situation, and he had to go in and has to play, and, honestly, he played more snaps than any safety. He did that without spring practice, training camp and all those, so there were some growing pains, but he is a very conscientious, talented guy.”
Not to be overlooked is the leadership and stability that they have brought to the secondary. Preseason All-American cornerback Kaiir Elam has missed half of the season with a sprained knee, projected starting cornerback Jaydon Hill was lost early in training camp to a torn ACL, backup safety/STAR Kamar Wilcoxson was lost for the year with an Achilles injury, transfer cornerback Elijah Blades was in and out of the lineup prior to being dismissed from the program and starting STAR Tre’Vez Johnson was ejected early in the Vanderbilt game for targeting.
With all of that turmoil, the two cornerbacks who have played the most – Avery Helm and Jason Marshall – entered the season with a combined one college game between them. Backup STAR Jadarrius Perkins is playing his first season of FBS football after transferring in from junior college.
So, even though Torrence is only a sophomore, he and Dean are looked at as the elder statesmen of the secondary.
Despite all of the youth and inexperience around them, there haven’t been that many miscommunications or coverage busts. That’s a testament to Torrence and Dean’s leadership.
“Both of those guys are leaders in that room and have shown really good work habits, and they’re very smart guys that have taken the coaching and have worked hard every day to improve themselves,” Grantham said.
“It starts, one, with being a presence in the meeting room. In other words, asking questions, being alert. Guys see that, they see how important it is to take notes and understand. And I think, when it gets to the field, it’s really about your communication and your ability to make sure that you communicate and you’re all on the same page because, if we’re all on the same page, no matter what you call, we’re going to be fine.
“That’s the biggest thing those guys have done is they’ve taken ownership in the back end. They’ve worked hard to improve themselves and bring their teammates along with them, and they’ve done a good job of making sure that they communicate really well with whoever’s in the game so that those guys feel comfortable and compliant.”