Florida's Secondary

FAYETTEVILLE -- When it comes to the Florida secondary this season, illusion trumps reality.

Words like "torched, scorched, toasted and roasted" have been used to describe the Florida defenders, who rank just eighth in the Southeastern Conference in passing yards allowed with 189 per game.

But Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who will try to solve the Florida defense when the Hogs wallow into the Swamp at 11 a.m. today, respects the Gators from personal experience.

"They run that 2-Invert defense, where the cornerback walks in to play the run or goes back to play the pass," Nutt said. "He's almost like a linebacker. That's how they got those (three) interceptions on us last year. It's a pro thing. We put it in ourselves after that game."

Florida coach Ron Zook has taken his share of criticism for going 8-5 each of his first two seasons in Gainesville, but Nutt credited Zook's pro coaching experience plus the abilities of associate head coach Bill Miller and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong with giving the Gators a formidable defense.

Hogs quarterback Matt Jones, despite having completed 20-of-30 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns against Florida in a 33-28 loss last season, agreed with his coach.

"Florida has a great defense," Jones said. "They mix up their coverages really well. And if you play football in the SEC, you're going to be good."

Arkansas freshman receiver Marcus Monk has seen Florida only on film, but he noticed, "They hide their coverages real well and they roll their safeties and cornerbacks well."

But the fact that Florida is breaking in four first-year starters in the secondary has the Gator Nation offering Zook lots of advice.

"My wife tells me," Zook moaned. "It happened to me the first year I was a defensive coordinator. She tried to tell me who was playing good and who was playing bad in the secondary. So everybody can coach the secondary."

Gators sophomore cornerback Reynaldo Hill, who succeeded All-American Keiwan Ratliff this season, said coaching wasn't the problem in Florida's 30-28 loss to Tennessee.

"We should have stopped them," Hill said. "We were dropping eight men in coverage. We just gave up a few big plays that we can easily correct with stance, alignment and hustle."

One problem is that Florida's defensive front hasn't gotten a good pass rush at times. But senior linebacker Travis Henry moved to defensive end some in a 20-3 win over Kentucky last week, and will likely do the same today.

The Gators have lined up with five defensive backs a lot, but only senior strong safety Cory Bailey of Miami, Fla., has much experience in that group.

Hogs receiver Steven Harris of Miami, who knows Bailey well, said, "It will be good to see him. This is like a family reunion."

Arkansas receiver Carlos Ousley of Jacksonville, Fla., who originally committed to Florida in the 11th grade, requested 63 passes for friends for today's game.

With more than 90,000 fans expected in the Swamp, Nutt has closed practices this week to try to get the Hogs focused.

Monk anticipates few communications problems, though.

"If you watch enough film, you can pretty much tell what defense they're going to be in," he said.

Nutt just hopes Jones can read the Florida defenses quickly and well.

"On his first interception last week, that's not like Matt," Nutt said. "He never saw the free safety. He's got to get his eyes down field on that one. He's usually been real good with that, and has a lot of confidence right now in his receivers."

But Nutt said Alabama's cornerbacks did a good job of disrupting Arkansas' receivers by jamming them at the line of scrimmage while buying time to get a pass rush.

"And when those rush ends are fast, boy, Matt's running for his life," Nutt added. "We've got to get better at getting off the line of scrimmage. There's only so long you can protect in this league."

Florida, meanwhile, limited Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd to 17-of-35 passing for 134 yards.

"We said our secondary would get better as the year progressed," Zook said. "I think they played much better last week."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories