Film Study Paying Off for Defense

If you ask Jaylen Watkins when he felt good about scoring a touchdown on the interception return he had for a TD on Saturday, he would tell you when they lined up for the play. Film study allowed Watkins to basically have an inside look at the play before it ever happened and enough for him to envision crossing the goal line before the ball was even snapped.

A week ago against Tennessee, the Florida defensive staff dialed up a blitz that was the perfect call for the play that was about to unravel. Quarterback Tyler Bray was in shotgun and ready to pass. Florida was in a three man front. They brought two linebackers from the defensive right side and weren't secret about it. Bray picked up on it quickly and went to the receiver that was in the area the linebackers blitzed from.

That is exactly what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wanted to see and how he wanted him to react. From the opposite side of the line, defensive end Lerentee McCray dropped into coverage and to the middle of the field. Bray floated a slow pass in front of his receiver target, but right into the hands of McCray who while coming from the opposite side of the defense, was a big surprise to Bray. McCray was off to the races with the ball and a 25 yard return.

Fast forward to Saturday in The Swamp and the Gators are playing Kentucky. The Wildcats have the ball on their own 25 yard line and it is third down. They line up two receivers to the right and they are stacked one behind the other just outside the hash.

If you look close enough at the video replay, you can see Florida junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins drooling as he anticipates the snap and the play that would follow. Watkins who had a chance to make an interception in the season opener was about to make up for that miscue.

"I saw it over and over in films," Watkins would say about anticipating the throw coming his way. "I know I missed one at Bowling Green and I said I wasn't going to miss this one.

"Before the play I was thinking ‘if he throws this, it is a touchdown'. It was just pretty obvious.

"When they go stack on top like that, they pretty much want to pick the top corner which was Loucheiz Purifoy and run a Sneak route underneath. I just beat the receiver to the spot. I don't think he saw me because he was looking at his receiver. I just went to the intersecting point and took it away from him."

Watkins has played a lot of football at Florida and came to the Gators as a highly coveted prospect at cornerback. This was the first interception of his three year career.

"That is my first career interception and turned into a touchdown," he said. "I can't even explain (how it feels)."

Getting to the end zone is something the Gators practice every day on defense. They want to be ready when the opportunity arises.

"It is so important that when we are in scout team work, we have to return it and make sure everyone blocks," he said of practice time. "We need to get the offense back on the field to get points on the board, if we can turn interceptions into points, that's even better."

Florida had three interceptions in the contest. That follows a two interception performance against Tennessee. Through four games Florida has seven turnovers. They had 14 total in 13 games a year ago. Gaining turnovers has been an emphasis for this defense in 2014 and Watkins says they are starting to feel like the monkey is off their back.

"As corners we had just one interception (all of last year)," Watkins said. "It felt bad not giving the offense the ball. Now (the offense is) holding the ball and we are giving them the ball. It's a team effort and it feels good getting that monkey off our back."

Another defensive back that plays a little bit of corner, some nickel, and some safety, is sophomore Pop Saunders. Saunders missed the first two games of the year, but has returned with a vengeance and seems to be around the ball all the time. He had an interception on Saturday as well.

"He is a very intelligent guy," Watkins said of Saunders. "Having someone back there like that, you have confidence in him that he can play.

"I was off the field (when he made his catch). It was a good catch and I was surprised he scooped it off the field like that.

With junior Cody Riggs out with injury, Florida has been relying on a three man cornerback rotation of Watkins, and sophomores Loucheiz Purifoy, and Marcus Roberson. They play the game with physicality and Watkins says they trust each other and the staff trusts the group as well.

"We are in a three man rotation," he said. "We all know we can play and the coaches have confidence in all of us. Each one of us gets our snaps and we try to play the best we can."

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