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Sunday, January 23, 2022
<p>The UF defense earned its second shutout of the season against Towson.</p>

The UF defense earned its second shutout of the season against Towson.

It's hard enough for a defense to stop a quarterback from beating it through the air. The defense needs to cover the receivers downfield, pressure the quarterback consistently and make the plays when the ball is in the air.

It's even harder when the defense does all of that, and the quarterback tucks and runs. That’s just frustrating.

Florida met that problem Saturday against FCS opponent Towson.

Redshirt senior quarterback Tom Flacco, little brother of Denver Broncos signal-caller Joe Flacco, ran for 50 total sack-adjusted yards on Saturday, 42 of those coming in the first half. The Gators struggled to contain the athletic quarterback, and it resulted in long drives for the Tigers early in the game.

"First half, we didn't do a good job getting off the field," coach Dan Mullen said after the game. "That's something we've got to get better at. Even for the day, we gave up 8-of-15 third-down conversions on the day and didn't do a great job of getting off the field in the first half."

The Gators did do a better job at restraining Flacco from making plays with his legs in the second half, holding him to just 10 yards on the ground, as Towson largely abandoned the run game when the score became lopsided.

Defensive tackle Adam Shuler — who finished the game with 0.5 sacks, four tackles and a blocked field goal — mentioned how important it was to contain Flacco and stop him from beating the defense with scramble plays.

"That was basically the whole game plan," he said. "That quarterback was probably the best player on their team. We knew he could run, and he showed us early in the game that he can run, so that was the key: keeping him boxed in."

Flacco's versatility helped Towson reach the Florida red zone three times, but the defense clamped down deep in its territory as it has done the entire season. Florida came into the matchup ranked second in the country in red zone defense, allowing just five opponent scores inside the 20-yard line on 10 tries.

The Tigers added to that when it didn't score a point in any of its three trips thanks to two missed field goals (one blocked) and a fumble recovered by linebacker David Reese in the first quarter.

But against tougher competition, UF may not be so lucky.

The Gators play No. 7 Auburn next week, and it has more quarterbacks with wheels.

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Bo Nix has 117 yards and a touchdown on the ground and is elusive in the pocket. Tigers' coach Gus Malzahn uses redshirt freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood for designed runs as well. He is second on the team in rushing with 128 yards on 20 carries and has three touchdowns on the ground this season.

The best thing may be to put a spy on the quarterback to watch him in the backfield. A possible candidate for that task is Reese, who has good lateral quickness and leads the team with 36 tackles on the year.

The defense will also benefit from the return of injured players cornerback C.J. Henderson and defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga, who Mullen said should be expected to be back by next week.

"(Towson) is a quality, a very quality, complete team. They have a great quarterback that can beat you with his legs, beat you with his arm. You saw that early. Give them a lot of credit. I thought they played really well," Mullen said. "We've got Auburn coming here next week. If we don't prepare, practice better, if we don't have a better routine… If we don't get better this week, we can't expect to win."

Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at drudolph@alligator.org.

The UF defense earned its second shutout of the season against Towson.

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