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Black, defense continue strong play

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Posted: Monday, November 10, 2008 12:00 am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - No. 3 UF furthered its impressive run with Saturday night's 42-14 win against Vanderbilt, giving it 38 points or more in the last five contests, but the Gators' high-scoring ways shouldn't come as a surprise.

The big plays from Tim Tebow & Co. were always there, but solid defense is UF's new trick.

Ever since allowing 31 points to Mississippi in a September loss, the Gators (8-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) have held their opponents to an average of 11.4 points per game, a resurgence best exemplified by the secondary and, more specifically, strong safety Ahmad Black.

In a year, Black has gone from coach Urban Meyer's "recruiting mistake" list to the forefront of the Gators' success as the team's unlikely leader for momentum-shifters.

Black tallied his team-high fifth interception of the season against Vanderbilt when he made a diving catch off a deflected pass to set up the Gators' third touchdown of the first quarter.

Those are the big plays UF is getting used to from the sophomore, who has returned two picks for touchdowns this season.

"He's like a cat. If you throw him, he's always going to land in football position," Meyer said. "Our guys make fun of him for it, but it's true. He's always in football position, and that's why he's such an excellent tackler. He's too small and too slow, but he's a very heady player, and he's always in the right position. That's how he gets away with it."

The rest of the defense is following Black's example, as the Gators have 14 interceptions, more than the 11 last year's squad tallied all season.

And the secondary isn't just turning errant passes into turnovers. It's limiting big plays, making solid tackles and even supporting the run defense.

Black, free safety Major Wright and cornerback Joe Haden are all among the team's leaders in tackles, and Wright and Haden had six each against the Commodores, while the unit held Vanderbilt to just 114 passing yards.

Just as those three and freshman corner Janoris Jenkins were hitting their strides, another playmaker emerged, albeit a little later than expected.

Freshman Will Hill, thought by many to be a potential starter this season, has turned in his best performances in recent weeks after becoming a special teams star earlier in the year.

Hill led the Gators in tackles against Kentucky (11), managed five against Georgia last week and added five more Saturday, and he played a key role in Black's early interception.

Hill blitzed and plowed through Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams just as he let the ball go, pressuring him into throwing toward a covered receiver.

Although Hill hasn't broken into the starting lineup at safety, Meyer is finding ways to keep him on the field by playing him at nickel back.

"He played great, and he's going to be a great player if he keeps working at it," said Meyer, who added Hill played despite missing a practice this week because of an illness in the family.

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