Gators Face Tough Challenge in A.J. Green

Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin knows about facing elite wide receivers. In his three years as the defensive backs coach with the Arizona Cardinals, his players faced Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin every day in practice. He doesn't see much difference between those two and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green.

"(Green) is probably faster than both of those guys," Teryl Austin said. "He's not as big. In terms of route running and catching the ball, he's very similar at the point of the attack. You better be very physical when you attack the ball."

Green didn't play any of the first four games of the season because of suspension. When he returned, he didn't waste much time getting involved. In four games, Green has 22 receptions for 365 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's a difference maker for them," Austin said. "Their offense was functioning well without him, but he's really opened some things up for them. He has the big play capability and makes catches you can't defend. He can run after the catch, he's smooth and he gets open. If you didn't have a dynamic guy outside, you could maybe load up the box and try to stop the running game. I don't think you can do that consistently."

The focus for the Florida defense in the bye week has been getting off the field on third downs. The defense allowed Mississippi State to convert 6-of-14 third downs in the last game. The conversions allowed the Bulldogs to possess the ball longer and win the time of possession battle.

This weekend in Jacksonville, the Gators know they need quick stops. Instead of playing good defense on the first two plays, their focus in practice during the week has been on elevating their level of play for third downs.

"It's really been an issue for three weeks, and we obviously know the outcomes of those three games," Austin said. "We've had a big focus this week and last week on third downs and getting more reps in practice. It's important to stop drives. If you let those third down conversions build up, then yards build up and drives build up."

There's no pattern for why the Gators have struggled on third downs. Teams don't run a specific formation or play that has the Gators biting every time. The blame falls on multiple people

"Some of them, I made some bad calls," Austin said. "Some of it was missing tackles or blowing coverages. It was a combination of everything."

Stopping Georgia on third downs this weekend is more difficult because of quarterback Aaron Murray's ability to run. Even if the Florida secondary is in position to stop a pass play, Murray has the ability to tuck the ball and run.

Murray has run for 165 yards this season, including a season-long 35-yard run for a touchdown against Tennessee.

"I'm really impressed with the young guy," Austin said. "He makes all the throws and has a good pocket presence. When you have him, you have to put your body on him. You can't sling him down. There's a number of plays on film where guys try to grab him by the shirt, but he's strong enough to shake them off and come off the back end."

The linebackers have to stay disciplined to attempt stopping Murray. Austin has emphasized stay disciplined against him, and that comes from being patient when the ball is snapped until they get the proper read.

"The big thing is they want to go real fast because they're right in the action," Austin said. "The thing Coach Durkin teaches them is to clear the cleats and go. We got back to that, making sure they get the proper reads."

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins' health is fine after coming out of the Mississippi State Game. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard "has been hobbled" and will be a game-time decision after being limited in practice Wednesday.

Cornerback Moses Jenkins is "close," and he will also be a game-time decision on Saturday.
Follow Cody Jones on

Fightin Gators Top Stories