Expectations for Florida’s offense act more like hurdles in front of Grant Holloway than mountains.
Time and time again, the unit finds ways to dart over them with minimal effort. The same can’t be said for the defense.
Saturday’s game against Missouri marked the first time this season Florida held an opponent to ten or fewer points scored offensively. That night, until the last two Missouri series’, the unit that was ranked toward the bottom nationally for pass and run defense held the Tigers to 172 total yards and only three third-down conversions. But it’s just a start, Gators’ coach Dan Mullen said.
“I think if you look at that game, the thing I saw different was the defensive staff did a good job of making some tweaks in the scheme to put guys in position,” Mullen said.
Part of what coaches attribute to the unit’s success last week, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, is the return of senior defensive lineman Kyree Campbell, which allowed redshirt sophomore linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. to slide into a more familiar role.
“I really think that came about because of our ability to have certain guys available, and by having those guys available, it gave us flexibility to play guys in some natural positions,” Grantham said. “The credit needs to go to the players.”
Mullen doesn’t just credit Campbell’s return as the miracle fix for the defense’s woes.
All season, Mullen raised concerns over the team’s lack of preparation in the offseason due to COVID-19 restrictions. But now that the staff had weeks of film to digest, they’re more aware of where their athletes should play given their talents.
“We think this is what our guys are going to do really well, and you get into games, you realize this guy struggles doing this in a game situation, but he’s better than we thought he would be in other ways,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to put those guys in that position to do the right thing.”
In the locker room, sophomore defensive back Kaiir Elam said the team’s first loss to Texas A&M changed the defense’s mentality.
“We played with a lot of confidence, a lot of excitement for each other when we made a play,” Elam said. “I feel like we lacked that the first one. The first two games. Well, the first three games, actually."
Florida spent Halloween trick-or-treating in Missouri’s backfield and came away with four sacks and six tackles for a loss. The second time this season the Gators finished with as many sacks and tackles for loss since beating the ‘Cocks on Oct. 3.
But the Tigers’ talent and success on the field pale in comparison to No. 5 Georgia. Though the Bulldogs rank 56th nationally in total offense, UGA is 43rd in rushing offense and tied for 27th in sacks allowed.
The Gators’ goals are limiting Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s ability to rush at the point of attack and stop playmakers from getting the ball in space, Grantham said. He hopes to take away Georgia’s diversity on offense and limit its dimensions.
“I think the biggest thing when you talk about stopping the run is your ability to set the edge of the defense, build a wall inside, don’t give them seams, don’t create displacements and then make sure you’re always coming downhill and fitting your gaps,” Grantham said.
Elam believes that there will be added pressure on the secondary through the air.
“I think they're a well-put-together team,” he said. “You gotta play your keys, never get lulled to sleep. Always be focused and sharp and on point.”
Florida will open the matchup once again empty-handed defensively. Defensive lineman Zach Carter and linebacker Antwuan Powell are suspended for the first half of play following their involvement in the donnybrook against Missouri before halftime. But it’s a test the team seems ready for.
“We’ll just take the guys that are available and play with them,” Grantham said. “There won’t be any whole-sail changes or anything like that. We’ll continue to play the guys that played in the last game.”
Contact Christian Ortega at firstname.lastname@example.org an follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.
Kaiir Elam at the Gators' game against the Missouri Tigers last Saturday. Florida' defense will face its greatest challenge yet in Georgia this weekend.