Gator D Shut Down Vandy on Third Down

Teryl Austin has been challenging his defense for the last few weeks to get off the field. First and second downs weren't a problem for the defense, as they got the opponent into third down situations often. The issue came in getting off the field and forcing the offense to punt.

"What we did was get them in a lot of third-and-longs," Teryl Austin said of the third down success the defense had against Vanderbilt. "There were a lot of third-and-10s, so that shifts it to our advantage. We did a good job rushing up front and covering, so that's why it worked."

Vanderbilt went 2-for-16 in third down conversions. The Commodores offense wasn't effective throughout the season, but this was their first game without all-purpose yard leader Warren Norman, who will miss the rest of the season after having wrist surgery.

As the game continued, more Vanderbilt players went down. Starting running back Zac Stacy, who was playing in Norman's place, was carted off the field on a stretcher. The offense isn't dripping with talent when all the players are healthy, but they spent most of Saturday's game searching to find anyone who could make plays.

However, the third down success for the defense came because Florida was able to shut down the Commodores' running attack on the early downs.

"They got banged up on offense, but when it's not third-and-two or third-and-four, it makes a huge difference," Austin said. "That gives our pass rush some time to get home. If you can get teams in that, you should win more often than not. I was proud of our guys and the way they played. We played smart and got off the field."

Once third and long rolled around, the Florida defensive line was able to pin its ears back and attack the quarterback. The line hasn't put consistent pressure on any quarterback this season, but they used Saturday to have their breakout performance. The Gators recorded four sacks and three quarterback hurries.

"Our guys made up their mind to get after the quarterback," Austin said. "On third down, that's when you know you have an opportunity to rush the passer. That had a lot to do with it."

Saturday's performance could have looked like a bounce back performance after the defense was gashed for 439 yards. Austin didn't think they played as bad as the numbers looked. Instead, he thought the Georgia offense broke off a few big plays that inflated the stats.

"I don't think we played terrible against Georgia," Austin said. "We gave up some plays, but for three quarters we played well. In the fourth quarter, we didn't. I was glad to see us come back and play for four quarters. That's what we have to do if we want to play for a championship and get ourselves back to Atlanta. We have to do it again next week."

Austin called the defensive effort Florida's best of the season. The blowout gave Florida a 41-0 advantage at halftime, and the Gators knew the second half would give some of the younger players a chance to play.

Austin singled out Jaylen Watkins, Cody Riggs, Shariff Floyd and Lerentee McCray as players who used their increased playing time to their advantage.

"I was proud to see those guys come in when they had their opportunities," Austin said. "We talked about and said we were going to give them some opportunities, so they should take advantage of it."

Floyd was second on the team with seven tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also mixed in a quarterback hurry. Floyd seemed to live in the backfield all day, blowing up multiple run plays right after the running back was handed the ball.

"You could feel him in the game today," Austin said. "That joker was moving and disruptive in the backfield. He wasn't just getting across the line of scrimmage and not making plays. He was making some plays. We really like the way Shariff is coming along."

Another freshman defensive tackle that could have used the playing time is Dominique Easley. He was highly recruited and even played last week against Georgia, but he wasn't on the travel roster for the Vanderbilt game. Austin said that Easley is "kind of lost."

"Every freshman has their issues and things they go through," Austin said. "He's no different than any other. We just hope he gets better as a football player, and hopefully we'll see him out there."
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