DL Looking for More Big Plays

The Florida defense has played pretty solid this season, at least at times. However, with four experienced guys in the middle and two pretty experienced ends, defensive line coach Dan McCarney is looking for more. Saturday night in The Swamp there were some positive moments, but too many not so positive. McCarney wants to improve on some of the positives moving forward.

It was a mixed bag for the Florida defense Saturday. On one hand the Florida defense gave up 161 rushing yards in the 33-29 loss to LSU, on the other it took 47 carries (3.7 average)to net that many yards. The Gators also had seven tackles for a loss in the game. Dan McCarney still wants more.

"There are times when we have played as good as we have since I've been here, there are times when we haven't," McCarney said about his front line guys in this 2010 season. "We want to continue to get more big plays, more game changing plays, more tackles for loss."

The play right now is just behind a group that had several defensive guys move on to the next level of football at the end of the 2009 season.

"We are three sacks behind last year when we had 16 sacks (through six games)," McCarney said. "We have 13 now, even though we lost a first round corner (Joe Haden), second round linebacker (Brandon Spikes), and two second round defensive ends (Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham), we aren't too far off of that pace, but last year we didn't have two losses."

The losses are something new around Gainesville, but McCarney and his troops know some of the goals they wanted before the season started are still in front of them.

"The important thing is there is a lot to play for," he said. "The incentive is there, the opportunity is there. There are a lot of great things for the Gators to play for starting Saturday night."

LSU was surprisingly effective against Florida. The Tigers have relied on an offense that has really sputtered through the first half of the season. McCarney took responsibility for some of the mishaps.

"The first thing we look for is missed assignments," he said. "There were a few of those and you never want those. That goes back to a coach's responsibility. We can yell and scream at players, but if someone misses an assignment, coverage, gap control, or where you fit in a blitz, we need to do a better job of (teaching) that.

He also gave credit to the opponent for a good game plan and some talent that will be featured on NFL fields in the near future.

"There weren't as many missed tackles as you would have thought," McCarney said. "There were 12, which is too many for us, but we have to give those guys some credit too. They have a pretty good football team. They have some really good skilled guys that are going to go on to the NFL.

"They also did a very good job. That was their best game. They put it together, executed, and had two veteran quarterbacks that made some tremendous plays and in the end it came down to the last play of the game and we had chances to win that game. We are very disappointed, but not discouraged. We know how big this game is this week and how important it is for us to improve."

If there was a bright spot up front it was senior defensive tackle Terron Sanders. Sanders finished the game with four tackles but was really disruptive early in the game causing the LSU offense to take notice.

"I think he's playing outstanding," McCarney said of Sanders. "Had we won that game, he would have been up for MVP honors in that game. He is still coming back from that ACL reconstruction in his knee. But, I am real proud of him and he wants to go out and have a great senior year. He's hoping that his last game at Florida is not his last game in a uniform. He wants to play more and knows he is going to be evaluated for that. He's going to have to play great defensive line for us in order to have that opportunity."

One guy that has stepped up his reps if just a little is sophomore defensive lineman Earl Okine. A hulking 6-7 and 290 pounds, Okine is the guy you want to get off the bus first and intimidate the opponent. He has yet to play a huge part in games, but he is making somewhat of a move.

"You see his effort in field goal rush and punt rush," McCarney said. "Coach Meyer has him involved. There is no question he is getting better. The better he practices, the more he will play on Saturday and you see him play more each Saturday.

"He's still pretty young, he is only a sophomore. I just have high hopes and great expectations for him, not only this week but in the future."

Florida's defensive line recruiting class was rated one of the best ever to come out of high school. To start the season, the five guys in the class were expected by the public to be huge contributors this season. That hanged quite a bit since the season began.

"You are going to come in and earn everything you get," McCarney said. "It is hard to go from high school to the SEC. It's been a real tough challenge. We still have a lot of faith in all of them.

Of the group, Philadelphia's Sharrif Floyd is the guy that has made the biggest impact.

"Floyd is my most consistent guy day in and day out and you will see him every Saturday and continue to see that," McCarney said. "But, Howard, Sanders, Marsh, and Omar Hunter are pretty good interior linemen here at Florida that he is battling with. We can't bring in enough Sharrif Floyd type guys into this program."

Dominique Easley was another highly regarded prospect out of high school. Easley hasn't had quite the impact that Floyd has just yet, but McCarney sees a bright future for the quick tackle.

"Easley is really a three or four (technique) right now and Sharrif is playing some nose right now," McCarney said. "I haven't lost faith in (Easley), he just has to continue to improve. Every day we evaluate and grade. It isn't like I'm just saying 'this kid I like better than this kid', every day I grade them and it is there in black and white every day.

Give him time just like the guys ahead of him. Easley will have his time on the stage down the road.

"He isn't as consistent as those other guys I mentioned," McCarney said of his four returning interior linemen. "Those guys are good players. Despite two losses back to back, I love going to my meeting room knowing I have Hunter, Marsh, Howard, and Sanders.

The other prominent defensive lineman that was supposed to make an impact this season isn't even playing on the defensive line right now. California's Ronald Powell has earned a new role because of his athleticism and McCarney expects Powell to help the defense this year.

"Ronald Powell is not even in our meeting room, he is with the SAM linebackers now as you probably saw on the field last week," McCarney said,. We think he can play either down or up, but right now we need him more at SAM linebacker and he is doing a lot of good things there.

"It doesn't mean it is permanent and in concrete for the future. Right now, it is the place we need him the most on defense. He is a big strong physical guy standing up in a two-point (stance). He's a real fast, physical pass rusher out there and he is getting better in his pass coverage as well. He will have a tremendous career here at Florida it is just coming a little slower than we probably expected.

Despite expectations of a very skilled defensive line recruiting haul. It is very difficult for younger guys to some in and supplant the older ones that have been through the wars. There were a lot of question marks with the older guys because of previous injuries, but he is happy they are ready to play this year.

"I didn't know what to expect other than I knew that all those guys inside were coming back if healthy and all of those guys helped us win a national championship," McCarney said.

This week the Gators host Mississippi State for Homecoming. The Bulldogs are not your usual type of Homecoming opponent, they bring a highly potent offensive attack especially in the run game. They also feature a head coach and offensive line coach that are very familiar with the Gators.

Dan Mullen is the head coach at Mississippi State and John Hevesy is the offensive line coach. Both walked the offensive sidelines of the Florida Gators in their previous two national championships. They run the same type of Florida spread option offense we have seen in Gainesville for most of Urban Meyer's tenure. McCarney feels it is a wash with any advantage they may have knowing the Florida defense.

"It can be an advantage on both sides, maybe that's a push," McCarney said. "Dan Mullen, John Hevesy, and those guys know how we like to defense our offense because we went against each other year around (in practice). We had a game against them last year and it's very similar. We have to be assignment sound and technique sound when you play an offense like this, especially with the option factor."

Don't look for any kind of nostalgia or nerves to effect the Mississippi State coaches just because they are back in The Swamp on the other sideline. Mullen and Hevesy have their own place in Florida history, but there is only one thing important Saturday night.

"It has a lot to do with the success and history making seasons (here)," McCarney said of what the two might feel before the game. "But....when the gun goes off, the game starts, the foot hits the ball, and everyone is just trying to win games and put their players in place to win games."

Forget knowing your opponent, McCarney thinks this Bulldog offense is for real.

"What you see is what you get on tape," he said. "They rushed for over 400 yards against Houston and are in the top three in the SEC in rush offense. It's real now and that is including games against Auburn and LSU with outstanding defenses. We are going to have to play great defense on Saturday."

It is a veteran group at Mississippi State with some real play makers.

"Four of the five are back up front," he said of their offensive line. "They have real good skill players. Last year they had a tremendous back that went on to the NFL and it looks like Dan reloaded with some really good backs. There is experience all over that offense when we watch it. Chad Bumphis is having a good year averaging close 80 (reception) yards a game. They have the pieces in place to really run that offense efficiently."

The Gators are on a two game losing streak and pretty unfamiliar territory. They are going to have to regroup and come out focused to play a quality MSU team. McCarney is likely going to need his linemen to step up.
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