Adam Shuler had not gotten a ton of recognition since he arrived at Florida, at least not until the last two weeks. The Gators had even taken some criticism for bringing the graduate transfer defensive lineman in from West Virginia.
But he erased all doubt and proved his worth against Tennessee on Saturday night as he made himself a candidate for Florida’s defensive player of the game, along with linebacker David Reese.
Shuler and his fellow linemen bullied the Vols up front all night to get constant pressure on the quarterback and keep Tennessee’s rushing attack in check. Stopping the run was one of the biggest keys coming into this game, and the Gators made that a reality with relative ease.
Improved physicality is something Florida has been preaching since Kentucky handed over an embarrassment in The Swamp a couple weeks back, and Dan Mullen said Shuler possesses a toughness that his teammates can learn from.
“He’s got a toughness to him,” Mullen said. “He’s got an edge, a nastiness to him. And that stuff is contagious, and that’s what I want. If we get everybody on that deal, we have some solid potential here. We just got to go start taking advantage of it quickly.”
Shuler said he knew that Florida would have a real advantage on the line from the Tennessee’s very first possession of the game, which ended with a fumble.
He seemed to be in there play after play to make stops around the line of scrimmage when the Gators needed it most.
“I just know it’s crunch time on the line of scrimmage,” Shuler said. “Games are won up front. If you can’t bully the man across your front, then it’s going to get real ugly.”
Shuler finished the night as Florida’s second-leading tackler with nine to his name. The most outstanding tackle of all came when he and Cece Jefferson met up with Tennessee running back Tim Jordan in the end zone to force a safety early in the second quarter.
At that time, the game was still within striking distance for the Vols, but the stop made it 16-3 and shifted momentum back in Florida’s direction.
Shuler is quickly becoming one of the most important pieces on Todd Grantham’s defense. That is no fluke, but a result of the effort he gives day in and day out.
“It’s just coming from the hard work,” he said. “The drive to be a dog on the field. Work hard throughout the week and it’s going to show up in the game.”