The story of the game for the Florida defense was persistence. A slew of penalties and some really indefensible throws and catches in the first half and early stages of the third quarter put the Vols out in front. A team with quit in them would have never seen the fourth quarter. That isn't this unit so far.
The defense hit Tyler Bray throughout the game. They forced his first interception of the year in the first quarter, but the high powered Vol offense was still able to reel off over 100 yards in each of the first three quarters and a touchdown in each of the first the quarters.
After 40 minutes or so of harassment on Bray, the Gators limited Tennessee to 5 yards total and -3 yards rushing in the fourth quarter and held a 152-5 advantage in total offense during the final quarter.
Turnovers eluded the Gator defense a week ago and have been a sore spot for the squad since last year, but they did manage two in the game and both were due to pressure on the quarterback. The Gators really showed when facing a drop back passing team they can get pressure with their down linemen and a few blitzes.
One thing I love about this unit is that they are using a lot of people. True freshmen defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler were in as early as the second series in the game. Backup linebackers Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor were also in along with senior defensive end Earl Okine. True freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison started the game in place of the injured Jelani Jenkins. The Gators are building some serious depth throughout the defense and doing it with youth. This is a characteristic that is very strange with college coaches.
Despite all the fireworks on offense (555 yards and 37 points), in my opinion the biggest series in the game belonged to the defense. Down 20-14in the middle of the third quarter Florida tried a fake punt just on their side of the 50 yard line. It failed and the Vols got the ball back at the Gator 47 and the lead.
As any high powered offense would do, the Vols wanted to take a shot on first down to try and end the misery of the Gators. Instead, Florida dialed up a safety blitz, Bray through the ball away and it was declared grounding and a loss of ten yards. Two more plays and 12 yards later, Tennessee was back punting to Florida.
Any momentum gained was washed away quickly by the three-and-out series and when Trey Burton took the next play 80 yards for a touchdown ole' momentum was totally reversed.
The series was a mix of perfect play calling, some great athletic ability with Elam on the sack and Jon Bostic and Morrison on the two tackles. Just a great way to bow their backs and get it done.
I would say three of the four starting defensive linemen had their best games of the year. It should have almost been expected from Lerentee McCray that he would do well, but probably not that well… more on that in a minute. Sharrif Floyd absolutely lived in the backfield for most of his time on the field and Omar Hunter showed that he plays better against pure drop back passing teams.
From the second play on Floyd was a factor. He and Omar nailed the running back for a loss of one on the play. Even though he had just one registered pressure on the day, he was a constant issue for the Vols and finished with 1.5 tackles for loss on the day.
Hunter had to be happy given that he was facing a quarterback that was willing to stand in the pocket and not a quick passing game. Big linem4en get worn down quickly in a quick passing game as they take a few steps and the ball is gone. Hunter showed some quickness and speed we haven't seen this year from him as he got after it. H3 finished with four tackles and a pass break up on a blocked pass late in the game when Bray was feeling down right frustrated.
I am sure McCray's stat line will change from the one that was published. He is listed as having two quarterback hurries on the night, but there quite a few more where Bray knew he was coming and needed to get rid of the ball. He made one interception and forced the other one when he hit bray as he was releasing the ball. McCray is probably the best pass rusher Florida has had in a few years. He needs to do more of it.
The Gators continue to get good play from their freshmen defensive ends and both were adding their own tough medicine for the Vols to swallow. Dante Fowler in particular was very noticeable and it got to the point where they were holding him a lot with the officials not seeing it or at least not calling it.
Okine is another one that seems to make his presence felt now when he does get on the field. If Easley is hurt enough to miss the game Saturday, I wouldn't be surprised to see a good deal of Okine.
Two guys that got in the game that I didn't notice were defensive tackles Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs. A week ago Orr was very noticeable against the Aggies. This week, both he and Jacobs were pretty invisible.
In all the Gators got a very good rush, but they weren't perfect. With a talented offensive line like Tennessee I think the Florida defensive line won more than their share of the battles.
Right now it is a two man race as to the best true freshman on defense between Fowler and Morrison. I am going to give Morrison the lead right now.
He actually struggled in the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Morrison lost containment on the outside and the Vol running back raced for 20 yards. He did that again later and missed a gap allowing another first down run in the first half.
By halftime, Morrison was running everywhere and making plays or at least forcing the issue with the Vols. He finished with five tackles (4th on the team), a quarterback hurry, and a tackle for loss. The kid looks like he is going to be special.
Jon Bostic had five tackles as well and seemed to spend a great part of his day in pass coverage on the running backs. He showed his expertise on three different open field tackles. I think Bostic is the most consistent of the backers.
Michael Taylor missed a couple of assignments early as well and rebounded. Like Morrison he absolutely sticks his nose into the fray, a must have trait for a linebacker in the SEC.
We can see the athleticism from Neiron Ball, but he does have a play or two every game where he looks like he has missed a lot of football over the last year. On one particular blitz, he maintained his gap assignment but really didn't play off the man blocking him very well and so he was pushed right out of the play after he had all the momentum he needed heading in the right direction to get the back in the backfield.
Again, something I like about this unit is that the staff is playing a bunch of Players. You can add Darren Kitchens to the other names and you have five guys that can play some pretty good football with Jelani Jenkins likely to return in three weeks. That makes a solid two-deep rotation at linebacker. Secondary I just don't get all the negative comments on Josh Evans. I believe he and Morrison have the most hard hits on the ball carrier this year and I think Evans has that title by a few hits. He had seven tackles in the game Saturday (s2nd on the team) and he leads the Gators in tackles on the season.
He had a rough play in the Aggie game when he whiffed on the quarterback for a touchdown, but overall he brings it on every tackle and has the speed to play at free safety.
Matt Elam was a stat machine on Saturday with 10 tackles, a sack, a pass break up and an interception. He literally was all over the field. Save for a couple of incredible throws by Bray, he had a very good night and an all-conference night. He's another guy that doesn't get enough praise for his play in my opinion.
Pop Saunders missed collecting an interception in the first series of the game and should have been credited at least with a pass break up. Saunders is one of the more instinctual guys on defense and will make a lot of plays for Florida this year.
Face it, these two guys were going against the best pair of receivers they will face all year. They are very close to being the top two receivers they will see all year and the boys held their own.
I'm also not down on Loucheiz Purifoy. The one thing he has going against him is weight and strength. For that he is better in straight up man coverage. When he has to play off and make a tackle he is at a disadvantage right now because of his size. This will improve over time, but I know he is still the hardest to go against when he is matched up in bump and run and a lot of it has to do with his speed.
Bottom Line on Defense
For the second week in a row, a first half that saw the opponent rack up points and yardage, became a second half where they pretty much shut that opponent down. And again there weren't many adjustments made in the scheme and how to attack the other team.
Instead of the issue they had last week where guys were just not maintaining their assignments, against the Vols it was really a matter of getting past a hand full of really good plays that Tennessee was making. They were plays that were for the most part tightly covered and were under pressure a great deal.
With Florida substituting a great deal early on at all levels of the defense, and the offseason conditioning program aimed at making this a second half and fourth quarter team, The Gators actually wore down the Volunteers both in the trenches and in the passing game. Vol head coach Derek Dooley actually admitted that they probably should have played a few more people on offense to compensate.
I think we are starting to find the identity of this defense.
I think they have shown a constant pass rush when the opponent actually drops back to throw the ball instead of a quick passing game. They have shown the toughness to settle down during the game and stop the running game. They need to work on the early stages of the running game where they seem to lose focus on assignments.
I would like to see them rely a little more on their pass defenders and put an extra man in the box earlier in the game. They seem to be outnumbered early on and that isn't helping them defend the run.
Overall, the results speak for themselves and especially late in contests, where we have seen it means the most.
Huge accolades need to go to Kyle Christy. The gator punter flipped the field three times as he averaged 48.6 yards on five punts and had three kicks over 50 yards on the night. Surprisingly Tennessee didn't rush either time the Gators were pinned deep and he punted from the end zone. This allowed him the time to really get set, boot it, and allow his teammates to get to the punt returner before he could make a move.
Caleb Sturgis remains a weapon for the Gators. He went three for three, including a 49 yarder in the middle of the fourth quarter that made it a three score game and basically sealed the win for the Gators.
Although none were special, there were no issues in punt and kickoff returns. It does seem like Debose is about to bust one.
Sturgis had six touchbacks and one where the return man got to the 19 yard line, a minus six since he could have downed it and gotten the all at the 25.