Florida’s defense looks to continue taking steps in the right direction this week when it visits Tennessee, starting with stopping the run.
The Gators currently stand as the 101st ranked rushing defense in the country, after giving up 222 yards on the ground to Charleston Southern and getting dominated by Benny Snell and Kentucky for 303 yards. But some strides were finally made against Colorado State last week as the defense only allowed 70 yards rushing, with 51 of those coming on the Rams’ final drive.
The team’s physicality and effort had been in question all week leading up to the game, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was pleased with the improvements he saw in that area.
“I thought it was better,” Grantham said. “When you look, there were less missed tackles and I saw guys trying to be more physical in their play. And that’s the bottom line is if you’re physical in your play and guys are running to the ball, what happens is you decrease the seams in your defense, and when you do that, sometimes those missed tackles don’t show up because there’s another guy there putting a hat on the guy.”
While that game was good for building some confidence before the remainder of SEC play, the level of competition will take a rather large jump this week.
Tim Jordan leads the Vols’ rushing attack with 249 yards on 48 attempts through three games. Tennessee rotates a handful of other running backs in Ty Chandler, Madre London and Jeremy Banks for the remainder of the carries.
Dameon Pierce is Florida’s only back with more yards this season than Tennessee’s second, third and fourth leading rushers.
The Gators didn’t fair too well the last time they faced a strong run game, so it must be a point of emphasis this week.
“They’re physical,” Grantham said. “You’ve got to really come and front them up when you tackle them. If you arm tackle them, they’re going to run through you. You’ve got to get more than hat to the ball. I think their running backs do a really good job of running through guys and making a 3-yard gain a 6-yard gain and they can make guys miss and get double-digit runs.”
Tennessee has outrushed its opponent in every game this year, even in the Week 1 beat down it suffered to West Virginia.
If history is any indication, the ground attack means a lot in determining the winner of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry. The team that runs the ball better in this game has come out on top 14 of the last 18 years.
The Gators only allowed the Vols to reach 100 rushing yards once from 2005-2014 (and forced negative yards twice in that time period), but have given up an average of 205 rushing yards per game over the last three seasons.
This isn’t a great Tennessee offense by any stretch of imagination, but it has the tools to take advantage of Florida’s weaknesses, which makes it dangerous.
“They are going to really try to run the ball on us,” said defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe. “And that’s where we come in and stop all that, so that’s what we are really focusing on this week. We have to stop the run.”