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Sunday, November 28, 2021
<p>UF defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III celebrates with teammates after an interception during the first half of Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.</p>

UF defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III celebrates with teammates after an interception during the first half of Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE — Florida’s defense was ready for Georgia’s offense on Saturday, but it wasn’t because the Gators had an extra week to gameplan.

In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Rather than spending the full two weeks meticulously studying every nuance of the UGA attack, Florida turned its focus inwards.

"We didn’t work on Georgia at all during the bye week," coach Jim McElwain said.

"We had to get better ourselves."

On Oct. 17, LSU ran rampant against UF's defenders, rushing for 221 yards and three touchdowns — one of which came on the game-winning fake field goal, granted — largely on the shoulders of running back Leonard Fournette.

And through the air, Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris exposed the Gators’ secondary, exploiting gaps in coverage and miscommunications between defenders for 202 yards and two more touchdowns on just 19 pass attempts.

For a defense littered with NFL talent and an offense that still isn’t powerful enough to win a shootout, the performance wasn’t good enough.

The UF defenders knew that, and they were determined to rectify it during their time off.

"We gave up too many plays," All-American defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III said of the LSU game.

"We were in OK shape on most of the plays but didn’t make any plays. That was the big thing, and that’s what we kind of realized. We kind of took it to the practice field."

That’s where the Gators studied their own mistakes, all the things that weren’t right against the Tigers, and worked out the kinks.

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"What you do is you self-scout yourself," McElwain said.

"That’s offense against defense, 'what do we need to do?'"

So when the possibility emerged last week that Georgia could start junior Faton Bauta at quarterback, Florida didn’t need to scrap a full week of preparation for how the offense would have worked with Greyson Lambert at the helm.

And even though Bauta hadn’t started a game in his career, and there was no film to study to prepare for him, the Gators simply did what they could scouting wise and trusted their own ability.

"Once we got that news (that Bauta would start), we were like ‘OK what are we going to do?’" safety Marcus Maye said.

"But I think on Tuesday, you know, we realized it doesn’t matter what they do. We still have to play our ball. We still have to play the defense we know."

That type of ball worked, and Maye and company were able to shut down Bauta and the Bulldogs, holding them to just 223 total yards and taking the ball away five times.

Defenders held the edge, linemen won the line of scrimmage and the secondary was seemingly in all the right spots at all the right times.

By going back to the basics and fixing the details, Florida’s defense looked like the unit it’s capable of being.

And according to Hargreaves, that was the only thing that was standing in the way of the team playing up to its potential.

"When we communicate, we’re one of the best defenses in the country," Hargreaves said.

"That’s all it is for us. We stop ourselves from being the best. When we communicate, when we make plays, when we’re flying around, we’re hard to beat."

Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24

UF defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III celebrates with teammates after an interception during the first half of Florida's 27-3 win against Georgia on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

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