UF’s porous defense forced its offense to be nearly perfect to pull out wins in the first two weeks of the season. Through 11 quarters of football, it worked.
Tied at 38 apiece late in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M, Florida’s vaunted offense had the ball, and everything was going to be alright.
Except running back Malik Davis couldn’t hold onto that ball, and Texas A&M recovered the fumble at Florida’s own 48 with under four minutes to play. The Aggies drove down the field and kicked the game-winning field goal to stun the Gators.
For a school that has prided itself on being “DBU,” Florida’s defense has had more holes than old pair of socks, especially against the pass.
How bad is it?
The short answer? Very bad.
First, there’s the surface level stuff. The Gators have given up 495 yards (72nd out of 76 teams) and 33.3 points (58th) per game this season. Opponents are averaging over six yards per play, and the Gators’ defense allows the other team to convert on third down 58.7% of the time, second only to Ole Miss.
In 33 drives this season, Florida has given up 100 points for an average of 3.33 points per drive, meaning that opponents are scoring at least a field goal every time the Gators defense is on the field.
It’s not as if Florida is putting its defense in bad positions all the time, either. The South Carolina game had the worst average starting position for the defense this season, and that was at the Gamecocks’ own 29-yard-line. It hasn’t mattered where the opposing offense starts because Florida’s defense will likely give up points anyway.
For example, with UF leading 14-7 late in the first quarter, the Aggies were pinned inside their own 10-yard-line. A quick stop by the Gators would give their offense a short field to work with and a big opportunity to increase the lead to two positions.
Instead, the Aggies went on a 14-play, 94-yard touchdown drive where only one play resulted in a loss of yards. Florida let an opportunity to pull away early slip through its fingers because the defense just couldn’t get off the field.
Through three games, UF’s defense has forced just eight punts and three turnovers. Additionally, Florida has had only five three-and-outs this season, none of which came against Texas A&M. It also doesn’t help that the Gators have only forced three turnovers and totaled just six sacks this season, none of which came on Saturday.
Success rate, the percentage of “successful” plays the opponent has, also shows the Gators’ startling inability to finish drives. According to ESPN college football stats guru Bill Connelly, Florida is 75th out of 76 teams in success rate on defense. It’s not just on “third and Grantham” that opposing offenses are finding success, it’s all downs.
Connelly’s SP+ ratings had Florida’s defense as the third-best in the country in his preseason projections. That has now fallen to 20th, and UF’s freefall has only been limited by the influence of preseason projections in the SP+ formula at this point in the season. The Gators have only finished outside of the top 20 in defensive SP+ once in the last 10 seasons (2017).
Looking at Expected Points Added (EPA) per play, a way to value plays in terms of points, the Gators have one of the SEC’s worst defenses. Florida has a defensive EPA per play of 0.2, which is only slightly ahead of Missouri (0.21) and way ahead of Ole Miss (0.40).
Florida’s defensive struggles haven’t outweighed its electric offense, but the defense is doing a tremendous job of wasting it as it currently stands. This should have been enough to secure a win in College Station and keep the Gators undefeated in a normal year.
Perhaps the most infuriating part about all of this to UF is that it hasn’t mattered how offenses have attacked UF’s defense.
Defensively, smaller numbers for EPA per play are better, meaning that the teams in the upper-right quadrant of this chart have performed the best. Opposing offenses have had nearly the same EPA per play on passing plays (0.22) as rushing plays (0.19) against the Gators. The biggest weakness of Florida’s defense is that it has zero strengths.
“Maybe we've played three unbelievable offenses already, too,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said on Monday. “All of the sudden, I think sometimes you get to the end of the season and you look back and you say, 'OK, well, we thought this, but in reality, it was really something else.’”
For one, nobody should be calling an offense on a Will Muschamp team “unbelievable.” Second, there’s an adage that goes along the lines of “Once is a coincidence, two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.”
The pattern is that they’ve all faced the Gators’ defense.
Contact Brendan Farrell at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Bfarrell727.