Gators punishing the violators

A loose ball bouncing along the ground on Saturdays may look like luck or being in the right place, but for the Florida defense, it's about much more. It starts in the meeting rooms. While the coaches are watching offensive schemes of the opponent, they're also watching the ball. They're waiting for a violator to show himself on the film. When it happens, the Gators smell blood in the water.

A ‘violator' is the term the Florida coaching staff has come up with for a member of the opposing offense that doesn't protect the ball well enough. When the ball is away from his chest and not being carried high and tight, the smiles start to spread through the Florida defensive coaches. They see their opportunity.

Violators are called out in the Florida meeting room. They're pointed out as Saturday targets. Last week, it was South Carolina punt returner Ace Sanders and kick returner Bruce Ellington that were pointed out on film. Amidst their impressive return highlights being shown through the meeting room, the coaching staff saw their chance to create a highlight of their own.

The ball was being held away from the body. And both violators paid for it on Saturday in The Swamp.

"I think more than anything with causing fumbles, we just try to make our guys cognizant of how certain carriers carry the ball," Will Muschamp said.

They're focusing on the little things in how an offensive player is carrying the ball. If the tip of the football is pointed down, there's an opportunity for a strip by punching at the ball while making the tackle. Another characteristic of a violator is not having the ball against their chest.

"We talked to our guys and identified guys who don't take care of the football," Muschamp said. "When you have those opportunities, we ask those guys to go for the strips."

It worked against South Carolina. A diving Trey Burton poked the ball out of Sanders' hands while making a tackle, giving Florida ideal field position that turned into a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Solomon Patton did the same thing, with the driving ending in a one-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to Jordan Reed.

The violators Florida pegged throughout the week were turned in and pushed for their actions.

"In a lot of situations when you're in a confined area and you're tackling somebody in a condensed area, let's go for the strip because someone else is going to make a tackle," Muschamp said. "It's a judgment on the player if it's an open area, then you need to get the guy on the ground, so it's a little bit of a decision by the player going into the game. If he sees the opportunity for a strip, most of our guys will go it."

The game got off to a fast start because of a mistake by the most frequent violator of them all—the opposing quarterback. Muschamp said that they've seen on film that quarterbacks usually don't protect the ball as well as skill players. Sometimes they aren't expecting the hit when it comes, making it easier to get the ball on the ground.

That was the case on the first snap of the game.

Loucheiz Purifoy burned off the edge and hit Connor Shaw, but it wasn't a normal tackle. The sophomore cornerback's body went to the right of Shaw while his left hand reached in and punched the football out. If he missed the ball, Purifoy was still in position to bring Shaw down. The extra bonus came with the football on the ground.

"He's a guy that has a real knack for that," Muschamp said of Purifoy. "He certainly does, but that was a pretty confined area he was making the tackle."

Shaw was a target on film not because of anything he did wrong. The quarterback is always targeted as a violator. And on Saturday, this violator made a massive mistake.

"In most situations, the quarterback is the worst violator of ball security," Muschamp said. "All quarterbacks usually carry the ball in one hand. When (Purifoy) is coming off the pressure, the running back is knocked off where he's dumping the ball down to, and then as he comes out, Loucheiz just got his hand on the ball as much as anything. We felt like we were going to make the sack regardless, so strip the ball if you have the opportunity. We always emphasize that."

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