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Thursday, June 01, 2023

Lemmens becomes integral part of Gators’ run defense

After being what he called “a serviceable backup” for three years, Duke Lemmens has found a home in Florida’s defense.

When the Gators use their run-stopping scheme, Lemmens moves from defensive end to strongside linebacker, a role that gives him more ground to cover and more responsibility as the hybrid player in UF’s heavy package.

“It’s definitely been a long time since I didn’t have my hand in the dirt,” Lemmens said. “It makes me feel like an athlete again.”

He has to be. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is responsible for getting past the opposing tight end to stop run plays and providing support against the passing game.

That requires more versatility than his main position on the end of the line, but Lemmens has made the transition smoothly.

He racked up a career-high eight tackles — seven in the first half — during Saturday’s loss at Alabama, topping the previous high he set in the first game he played in the heavy package against Tennessee.

“The two games he played, Tennessee and this one, he kind of had [career games] because he was using his athleticism to run all over the place and be a highly-energized guy,” UF coach Urban Meyer said. “He played extremely well — played his best game.”

Meyer will need the senior to replicate that performance this weekend against LSU. For the third time in four games, the Gators will face the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher.

The Tigers’ Stevan Ridley holds that distinction with 557 yards and four touchdowns in five games (5.7 yards per carry), and he’s coming off a 123-yard performance against Tennessee.

“Their back is a tough one,” Meyer said. “He’s tough and physical. That’s where they’re going to go with it, or we’re guessing that’s the direction they’re going to head.”

Meyer and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had the same feeling about what the Crimson Tide would try to do on offense: pound the ball with running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

The Gators countered with the heavy package, and the results were mixed.

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The Tide’s backfield duo combined for 110 yards after putting up 242 the previous week against Arkansas, but 89 of those yards and two touchdowns in the first half helped build a 24-3 lead.

Meyer was happy with his defense’s handling of Ingram and Richardson, especially because the Gators improved upon the 22 missed tackles from last year’s SEC title game.

“[Alabama’s running backs] were way below what they expect,” Meyer said. “Six missed tackles is what I go through. That was our whole thing last week, and we tackled well.”

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