The story coming into 2020 surrounding Florida’s defense revolved around the secondary and its numerous questions. While that’s completely fair after an historically poor pass defense in 2020 (257.5 passing yards allowed per game), the run defense seemed to be left out of discussion.
People have taken notice.
The Gators allowed just 91 yards on the ground in its 31-29 loss Saturday — the third time since 2014 the Tide have been held under 100 yards rushing. UF allowed over 100 yards just once in its first three games, giving up 109 to South Florida in Week 2.
“Our guys did a good job of understanding their fits and where they needed to go,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told media Monday. “Quite honestly, I fully expected us to play that way.”
Florida’s next matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers could be its toughest test yet. The Volunteers boast two running backs in the SEC’s top 25 leading rushers: Tiyon Evans (161 yards, 17th) and Jabari Small (135 yards, 21st). Evans averaged 5.19 yards per rush in Tennessee's first three games.
The Volunteers also holsters a pair of mobile quarterbacks. Joe Milton III and Hendon Hooker are both top 30 in the SEC in rushing yards. Hooker sits 27th with 113 yards and, despite missing last week’s victory over Tennessee State, Milton is 32nd with 98. It is currently unclear who will start against the Gators as Milton continues to battle an injury he suffered in UT’s Week 2 loss to Pitt.
Pro Football Focus grades Tennessee with the 23rd-best rushing offense in the country with an 81.1 rushing grade.
Saturday in The Swamp could be a throwback to the golden days of football, featuring three yards and a cloud of dust. Florida’s offense ranks second in the country with 336 yards per game on the ground, and the Gators boast the sixth-best PFF rushing grade in the country (86.5) and three top 10 rushers in terms of yards: quarterbacks Anthony Richardson (275, fifth), Emory Jones (232 yards, seventh) and running back Malik Davis (212 yards, ninth).
The Volunteers rumble into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the rivalry game Saturday at 7 p.m.
Contact Michael Hull at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.