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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Grantham says Florida won’t bend or break on defense

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham praises his unit for holding shutout until the fourth quarter

<p>Florida head coach Dan Mullen reacts after FAU scores its first touchdown.</p>

Florida head coach Dan Mullen reacts after FAU scores its first touchdown.

The Florida Gators defense held Florida Atlantic to a shutout until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter, but the Owls still managed to reach the Gators’ side of the 50-yard line on each of their four first-half drives with most of Florida’s starters on the field. 

That statistic left many to wonder if Florida would deploy a ‘bend but don’t break’ style of defense this season, letting opponents move the ball but not surrendering scores. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham quickly put that thought to bed Monday evening when he spoke with the media.

“We’re not going to be a bend but don’t break style,” he said. “We’re going to challenge people. We could’ve played cleaner on third down, but if you look, two of their first-half conversions were on penalties.”

On defense, Florida committed five penalties for a total of 61 yards. The two culprits behind the penalties he mentioned were fresh faces in The Swamp. 

Freshman cornerback Jason Marshall was whistled for pass interference on third and 8 in the first quarter versus the Owls’ Je’Quan Burton that extended their drive. Junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate thought he recorded his first sack of 2021 on third and 2 in the second quarter, but it didn’t stand because graduate defensive back Elijah Blades grabbed the face mask of an opponent to award FAU another first down. 

Many Florida fans voiced their displeasure in 2020 when the Gators’ cornerbacks would line up behind the first-down marker on third downs, allowing easy conversions to keep opposing drives churning. This trend reared its ugly head on Saturday versus FAU once again. 

When pressed about the issue, he said Florida would play more press coverage than it did last season and added calls dictate based on how the opposing offense lines up. 

Grantham’s defense buckled down after halftime. FAU went zero for three on third down in the third quarter and Florida only yielded 39 total yards during the period. Grantham credited his defense for making the correct adjustments. 

“There was a couple of times where something came up early in the game that we could’ve maybe played a little cleaner,” he said. “Guys came to the sideline, and it came up later on and we either got a negative play or a sack on that exact play.” 

Redshirt senior wide receiver Rick Wells was also made available to the media Monday evening. He caught his first touchdown pass in his six-year Florida career and led the team with five catches for 36 yards 

Wells reflected on his time with the Gators, where he suited up in orange and blue since 2016. He caught passes from a wide variety of Florida quarterbacks in practice including Austin Appleby, Luke Del Rio and current redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones. 

He said entering the NCAA transfer portal never crossed his mind despite only seeing an insignificant amount of snaps the past six seasons. 

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“I was raised on loyalty,” Wells said. “Gator Nation was loyal to me.”

Coach Dan Mullen said after the game Saturday he originally had reservations about Wells’ buy-in to the program. Once the wideout did, he was buried on the depth chart behind former Florida players Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain and Kadarius Toney.

Mullen now credits his perseverance and hard work. 

“But it never deterred him,” he said. “He kept battling and kept working, kept his head down, kept grinding and now he's reaping the reward of, you know, of all that hard work."

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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