Florida responds on pass defense

The Florida defense has kind of had to feel their way through the first half of the last couple of games. On the road in hostile environments, they knew things would be tough, and they know they would just have to keep fighting. Through 22 minutes of Saturday's game with Tennessee, they weren't being carved up, but Tennessee was certainly tough on them.

Through the first half and first drive of the second half the Tennessee passing game added up 213 yards through the air. When the defense settled down and played their game at that point, Tennessee had only 44 yards passing and no points in the last 22 minutes of play.

Florida junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins knew this was going to be a big battle for his squad. The Vol receivers and Gator defensive backs were battling all game.

"There is nothing but respect to those guys," Watkins said after the game. "All four of us corners and their receivers were out there competing. We got them a couple of times and they got us a couple of times. Those two guys I'm pretty sure will go first round, it was just very physical."

For junior strong safety Matt Elam, these are the kind of games he lives for. He loves playing tough receivers and the energy it brings.

"It is very exciting, but just the competition knowing how great they are… just the competition and doing battle," he said.

Elam knows that adversity will hit when you play the likes of a Cordarrell Patterson and Justin Hunter, the two big receivers that make the Vol offense run. Fighting through that adversity is how you win ball games of this magnitude.

"You are going to get beat," Elam said. "It's about what you do after you get beat. I got beat on an over route on the third down, then came back and made the interception. It is about how you respond. You can't get down when bad things happen. Bad things are going to happen because he is a great quarterback and he will make plays, they are great receivers and they are going to make plays."

Elam had one of two interceptions on that day. The turnovers are an emphasis this year for the gators who had only 14 total a year ago They are about on that same pace with three in three games, but these two were pretty big and helped spark the offense as well.

"Turnovers are always very important we give the offense another chance to put some points on the board," he said. "That is our job. It always shifts the momentum because the offense gets moving and we take it out of (the opponent's) hands."

"Both were crucial because Tennessee was driving and it is good to help the offense," Watkins said. "We dropped two more but I'm not complaining because we won the game."

The Gators had another run of penalties in the game. They tallied eight penalties for 78 yards and most were of the personal foul or aggressive play type. Watkins said those things are to be expected in a game like the one on Saturday.

"This was a physical game on both sides of the ball," Watkins said. "That is why I think there were a lot of penalties."

The physical stuff turned into some smack talk at times and Elam was kind of intrigued how the Vols could be mouthing so much when most of them have never watched their team beat the Gators as fans or players.

"There was a lot of jibber jabber," he said quizzically. "I don't know when the last time Tennessee beat Florida, so I don't know why it was like that. It was great going out and competing against two great guys. The two receivers were great and the quarterback even better."

Despite giving up 20 points early the staff never wavered in their confidence in the defense. It was enough confidence that down by seven points in the third quarter, they decided to risk a fake punt in their own territory. The fake failed when Elam couldn't get the first down on 4th and 9. The Gators turned the ball over on their own 47 yard line.

Three plays later, the Vols were punting the ball back to the Gators. It was a huge stop in the game, especially when Trey Burton took the very next snap 80 yards for a game tying touchdown.

"We knew going in that doing the fake punt, there was a possibility we wouldn't make it," Elam said. "We had confidence in our defense that we would come out and make a play. We stood strong after stopping them on fourth down. We have confidence in our defense."

Now the gators have to put it behind him. A lot of hype was put on this game and none of that hype means anything anymore. The game is a notch in the Win column and nothing more at this point other than bringing a tight knot group even closer together.

"It is a great win, just to have another SEC win," Elam said. "Our team is playing closer. Just being out there and playing with another win is always big."

Fightin Gators Top Stories