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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Inconsistency hinders young defense

OXFORD, Miss. - UF's inconsistency on defense was glaring Saturday against Mississippi, and Coach Urban Meyer has become concerned.

The third-year coach said the unit's deficiencies start with the pass rush, and correcting the issue has become an urgent priority.

"That's going to cost us a game," Meyer said. "I never see their quarterback get hit, and that's a problem."

At times, the UF defense dominated the Rebels the way it expected to.

But with the pass rush disappearing for much of the game, Mississippi took advantage of an inexperienced defensive backfield.

"We have a young secondary that got exposed today," Meyer said.

Mississippi quarterback Seth Adams torched the Gators for 302 yards through the air, including two touchdowns.

The third quarter was particularly troubling.

Sophomore cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis got beat on a 51-yard reception by Mississippi receiver Michael Hicks, which brought the Rebels to the UF five-yard line, setting up a field goal.

On the Rebels' next possession, Adams connected with receiver Shay Hodge on three-straight plays totaling 48 yards. On the third reception, UF free safety Kyle Jackson made an ill-advised attempt to jump the route and intercept the pass. Jackson's lunge didn't even come close, and Hodge walked into the end zone.

One drive later, receiver Mike Wallace got behind the secondary and Adams found him for a 77-yard touchdown that brought the Rebels to within three points at 27-24.

"It was pretty good coverage," said UF cornerback Joe Haden, who was defending Wallace on the play. "It was just, when the ball went in the air, he accelerated.

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"He's one of the fastest kids I've ever seen."

With inexperience and injuries plaguing the UF secondary, Meyer said he doesn't have the depth to make full-scale lineup changes when players aren't performing well.

"There are no choices right now," Meyer said. "You've got what you got."

Jackson, a senior, was benched in the first half against Tennessee and his struggles forced Meyer to consider pulling his starting job in favor of true freshman Major Wright.

Strong safety Tony Joiner, Jackson's best friend, was visibly upset when asked about Jackson's confidence following the game.

"I think his confidence is still the same," Joiner said. "There's not really anything I see for his confidence to be lower. I'm going to talk to him again on the bus, and that's about it."

But while the Gators were burned by the Rebels' passing attack, they contained All-Southeastern Conference running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Mississippi run game.

They allowed 80 yards and no touchdowns on the ground, holding Green-Ellis to just 37 yards.

"Our linebackers and our D-lineman are playing phenomenal (against the run) right now," Joiner said. "When everything is put together, we are going to have a great defense."

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