I can't count how many times this year there have been plays made by the secondary that I said to myself "that was a catch last year" for the other team. That has been the kind of transition from a year ago that we have seen from the Florida secondary.
The unit constantly gave up jump balls on long pass plays and touchdowns as well. This year along with their 14 interceptions, the top two of the top three cornerbacks on the team are also two of the top three in the SEC in pass breakups. Jaylen Watkins has 11 on the season and Marcus Roberson has batted the ball away 10 times already in the first nine games. All the cornerbacks combined last year finished with nine passes broken up.
Saturday the trend continued on all accounts as they picked off Missouri quarterback James Franklin four times on the way to a hard fought 14-7 win.
"It's been pretty good," Watkins said of the play in the defensive backfield. "It was another great day by the secondary and an improvement from last year."
Watkins attributes the better play due to all of the experience they gained and are still working on.
"The six of us played together last year and all are on the same page," he said of the rotation of safeties and corners in the secondary. "We are reacting instead of thinking. We all can just play fast and react instead of thinking. We put in a lot about balls coming our ways. We haven't dropped many interceptions and know how valuable they are to the team. A lot of our turnovers have turned into touchdowns and it is easier on the offense."
Another issue a year ago was guys not working within the system and just trying to make a play. These guys now believe in each other and that when a play is headed elsewhere, a teammate will make that play.
"It's the accountability," Watkins said of what is bringing it all together. "Holding yourself accountable to do your job and not always trying to make the play. Just waiting for things to come to you and stop trying to be a hero. We have all grown up and know there is strength in the defense. It's just trust in all 11 guys.
"I would say that a lot of guys were trying to make plays. Sometimes when we call a scheme you (just) have to do your job."
Florida played a little more zone defense this week mainly because of the spread scheme used by Missouri. It isn't the favorite for a secondary that likes to get in the face of the receiver from the snap of the ball.
"We played a lot of zone this week," Watkins said. "We had a great pass rush and put some pressure on him. When you have a great pass rush you get some turnovers.
"We play a lot of man and we like to get up in people's face and aggressive.
"When we get a little soft in coverage (playing zone) it frustrates us a little bit and then coach will call some man-press, so we can get after them a little bit."
"Sometimes you want to be a little physical. When you get off and soft a little bit they try the little short routes and then you have to come up and make a tackle and one missed tackle is a touchdown, just like at Georgia.
"We're fine in zone and can play in zone, but we rely on a pass rush and man-to-man, but we have a good enough pass rush to play both."
The Gators have three games left on the regular schedule and want to finish strong. A goal of finishing unbeaten in The Swamp is a top priority of this team and they understand it won't be a cake walk. Florida head coach Will Muschamp tried to drive that thought home to the team in the locker room following the win on Saturday and the thought that every game is a big one.
"He just told us we still have a lot to play for and to keep fighting," Watkins repeated of his coach's charge. "Any win is a good win. We are just taking it from there and keep pushing forward.
"Last year we played Furman and it wasn't to the level we wanted to play. We know that any team can come in here and have something for us. We want to go undefeated in The Swamp this year."
Now they know they can finish strong. A year ago it was guess work every time out, but things have definitely changed.
"We still haven't reached our goal yet," Watkins said. "I wouldn't say we are satisfied, but we have definitely come a long way."