Watkins Finding Motivation from a Year Ago

It may have been the biggest of turning points for Florida junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins. A year ago, in the Georgia game, Watkins was victimized by a fourth down pass for a touchdown in a game that was decided by less than a touchdown. Watkins spent a while early in the year at safety, was just getting a little more comfortable at corner, but this moment changed everything.

Florida actually lost the close game a year ago while giving up a pair of fourth down jump balls in the end zone. Sophomore safety Pop Saunders was the other victim and Jaylen Watkins says they are likely both using that game as motivation this week and that they feel a lot more comfortable in the defense this time around.

"I have been using both as a motivation factor, I am sure that Pop Saunders has too," Watkins said. "Those were two plays that could have changed the game last year. It was left on the secondary and we didn't make them. It turned out the other way. This year we are really ready to make those plays.

"It definitely adds more motivation to make plays. It shows how two plays can change a whole game. For us it makes it way more motivating than anything."

For Watkins it was a turning point in how he handled his business as a scholarship player at Florida.

"I felt like I kind of let the team down," he said. "I know the guys don't feel that way, but I could have made that play. I don't know about Pop, but I started taking things a little more serious, staying after practice and watching more film and stuff."

Against Kentucky earlier this year Watkins made his first interception of his career and returned it for a touchdown. Watkins commented that the play was made basically in film room earlier in the week. They knew when the Wildcat quarterback and receivers lined up a certain way the pass was coming that way. He jumped the route like he called the play and scored.

He also commented at the time that the play would have never happened a year earlier with the way he prepared for games and his approach has changed.

"It was more on myself as far as preparation," he said Tuesday. "The coaches always prepare us but at some point you have to do it on your own and do a little extra studying."

Watkins is also one of many players on the team that have kept the fire burning from a year ago by watching the games they lost. Florida piled up six losses during the regular season, a total they can't even reach this year, and they all were motivation for this team according to Watkins.

"The plays I could have made last year I always watch and see what I could have done better," he said about watching the losses over and over again. "I think a lot of people on the team do, because we have a lot of regrets last year. We remember the feelings in the locker room that we had and we don't want to do that again. "

He spoke again specifically about the play in the Georgia game that somewhat haunted him.

"I just didn't turn my head around quick enough," he said. "I didn't trust myself to make a play on the ball. I think I am past that this year and I trust myself."

It is the same quarterback this year that made the plays a year ago. Junior Aaron Murray leads the Georgia passing attack and is as good a passer as there is in the SEC if not the entire nation.

"I think he's one of the best in the nation," he said of Murray. "He had a great game last week (against Kentucky) and a great game against us last year.

"From watching film he can definitely make all the throws. He is very quick with his decision making, he understands coverages. He can pick you apart to the field to the boundary, it really doesn't matter. He can do everything. We can't say he can't make this throw or that throw, he can make everything."

Florida enters the game this year feeling much better about its pass defense. Watkins has 10 passes broken up which is good for the second best total in the SEC. Fellow cornerback Marcus Roberson has eight passes broken up and is ranked fifth in the conference. Loucheiz Purifoy has been a big weapon on defense this year at corner and the safety play including that of Saunders has been night and day compared to a year ago.

Watkins loves the rotation at corner especially.

"I know that we have three guys that can go in and not have a drop off," he said. "That helps the secondary because all of us can get a blow."

The added quality depth has been something that has helped the entire team. The Gators have been a real second half and fourth quarter team which was far from the same a year ago. Helped also by the experience they have and ability they have to make changes in the game plan at half time.

"We like to think that when we make our adjustments that it is time to pick it up and the second half is the beginning of the game for us," Watkins said. "That is why we have been pretty good as far as giving up points in the second half.

Florida made an impact on defense on the very first play from scrimmage against Top 10 team South Carolina on Saturday. Cornerback Purifoy blitzed from the edge and forced a fumble from quarterback Connor Shaw. Two plays later the offense scored from the three yard line.

Watkins says the defense is fun to play and the staff is willing to be more aggressive due to the experience they now have.

"Last year we didn't do as much because we were young. Now, everyone is grown up and everything is starting to come to us. The coaches have more to call because they trust us that much. It's fun and we're making plays when they call it, so I am sure they will call those plays."

The Gators sit just sixty minutes from a trip to Atlanta and playing for the SEC Championship by representing the Eastern Division. Watkins says that he and his teammates will be as focused as ever because of everything being on the line.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "It just shows that all your hard work is paying off in the summer. What a better opportunity than to play in Jacksonville in a big rivalry game.

"This week, I am sure everybody is going a little faster and staying after practice doing extra. We don't want any regrets after this game."


Fightin Gators Top Stories