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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Best defensive performance of season spoiled against FSU

By nearly every measurement, Florida’s defense dominated Saturday night.

The Gators held the Seminoles to seven first downs, 95 total yards and a 2-for-15 third-down conversion rate. FSU punted nine times. The E.J. Manuel-led offense averaged 1.6 yards per play.

Still, Florida coach Will Muschamp was not satisfied with his defense in the Gators’ 21-7 loss, which was the first time since 2000 a team has lost a game in which it held the opponent to less than 100 yards of offense.

“They got four turnovers and we got one,” he said. “It wasn’t good enough.”

The turnover battle was, in fact, the only place Florida’s defense did not come through. Turnovers accounted for all of Florida State’s points, and the Seminoles’ only two scoring drives traveled 20 yards and 4 yards.

FSU freshman running back Devonta Freeman scored on both series, each of which came after Florida quarterback John Brantley threw an interception. 

The Seminoles entered Saturday’s game averaging 401.3 yards per game, including 126.1 yards on the ground. Florida, however, held FSU to 30 rushing yards — 0.7 yards per carry. The Gators sacked Manuel four times.

Saturday’s effort was a stark turnaround for Florida, which was torched for 446 yards and 32 points by FCS opponent Furman last week. Overall, Florida’s defense has been inconsistent this season, though it ranked 17th nationally in total defense (318.8 yards per game) before this week.

“I felt like we played really well on defense,” junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “I feel like that’s one of the best games we’ve put together this year. A lot of guys stepped up. … We just go out there and do our thing. We don’t worry about what the offense does, what special teams does. When defense is on the field, that’s all we think about.”

But on a night when Florida once again had to turn to freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Gators asked for more from their defense, and the burden was simply too much. Florida did come close to a couple potential game-changing turnovers, though.

On Florida State’s first scoring drive, safety De’Ante Saunders jarred the ball away from Manuel at the goal line, but the quarterback recovered. The Seminoles scored on the next play.

In the third quarter, on a first and 10 from the UF 39-yard line, Matt Elam jumped in front of FSU receiver Rodney Smith, only to drop an interception. Florida’s only touchdown came in the fourth quarter, two plays after defensive tackle Jaye Howard recovered a fumble.

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“We made some good plays on defense,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “(FSU) won the turnover battle, and when you win the turnover battle you have a chance to win. We got to get the ball off people a little bit better.”

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@alligator.org.

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