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Friday, May 27, 2022
<p>The Florida defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee.</p>

The Florida defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee.

The defense was pivotal.

With a backup quarterback making his first start, a motivated conference opponent and next to no run game to speak of for much of the game, the defense had to come through in order to win, and it did so by taking the ball away.

Florida’s offense put the defense in a difficult spot early, fumbling the ball on its own 19-yard line in the first quarter. Unranked Tennessee had the momentum as it dinked and dunked its way to the three-yard line and looked like it was going to score. 

But a Trey Dean III interception on a tipped ball in the endzone deflated any momentum the Volunteers had mustered for themselves, and they never saw the red zone for the rest of the contest.

By the end of the game, the defense had snatched three interceptions and forced a fumble recovered by safety Amari Burney after it slipped through the hands of two Tennessee players.

“Just get to the ball,” Burney said after the game. “Coach harps on that. No loafing, just get to the ball. They jumped on it, and I was just running to the ball, and I (saw) it pop out. It was like just get the ball, don’t try to scoop it, just fall on it so the offense can go out there and drive down the field and score.”

Burney finished the game with five tackles, the fumble recovery and an interception in the third quarter that broke the back of the Volunteers.

The defense’s aggressiveness in coverage, combined with consistent pressure from the front seven, overwhelmed the UT offense and forced devastating mistakes. All four of the turnovers halted promising drives and were a big factor for Tennessee scoring just three points and only crossing into the red zone once. 

The defense as a whole dominated in all facets against the Volunteers with four sacks, eight tackles for loss and six pass breakups to go along with its four turnovers. 

Creating turnovers has been a significant contributor to Florida’s success this season. The defense came into Saturday’s matchup with six takeaways, including two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter in the comeback win against Kentucky on Sept. 14. 

The Gators offense, however, scored just 10 points off the turnovers its defense created and gave the ball away three times as well. 

The offense will need to take better care of the ball and start taking advantage of the opportunities the defense provides. A positive turnover differential will be crucial as UF begins to play ranked opponents Auburn, LSU and Georgia in the coming weeks. 

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

The Florida defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee.

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