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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

No. 6: Will the UF defense improve on 2008 and rank among the best ever?

Last year at this time, all the talk around the UF football program was about the defense.

It wasn't good.

It was along the lines of whether or not the Gators could stop opponents enough to allow their high-octane offense to win games.

Much has changed in a year's time.

UF's defense, aided by a surprisingly good secondary, was just as spectacular as its offense in 2008. The Gators allowed only 12.9 points per game, fourth in the nation.

UF had 26 interceptions in 2008, putting it in a tie among the nation's best. This included 14 interceptions in six games against top-25 teams.

And the Gators return their entire two-deep on defense for the 2009 season.

So now the question becomes: Will UF's defense this season rank among the best ever?

It sounds absurd until you remember 2009 is shaping up to be like 2008 with everyone a year older.

The Gators allowed only 58 first-half points in 14 games against a schedule ranked that second-toughest in the country, according to the NCAA.

The unit helped contribute to a school-record plus-22 turnover margin, second in the country.

And the defense saved its best for last in the BCS National Championship Game against Oklahoma.

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The Sooners entered the Jan. 8 showdown with an offense many called the best of all time. They had scored a ridiculous 702 points in their first 13 games (which breaks down to an incredible 54 per game) and had averaged 562 yards of total offense.

UF's defense allowed 14 points and 363 yards in Dolphin Stadium.

That's not to say the Gators don't have areas where they can improve. There were still stretches last season where UF would fall back into its bend-but-don't-break mold, allowing teams to work their way down the field before cracking down inside the red zone to get a key stop or momentum-changing interception. The unit finished third nationally in red zone defense.

The Gators also ranked only 15th in rushing defense (105.4 yards/game) and 20th in passing defense (179.86 yards/game), although it should be noted that in total defense (285.3 yards/game), they were No. 9 in the nation, a testament to how difficult it can be to successfully defend through the air and on the ground.

But there's a reason former UF beat reporter and current writer Andy Staples wrote in April that UF's backups could likely form their own team and be in the top 25.

Looking at the reserves on this Gators defense, he was probably only half joking.

And that's why all signs point to the fact that the question will likely be how, not if, the 2009 UF defense stacks up against the best ever.

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