Florida defense trying to repeat 2011

The Gators allowed 95 total yards to Florida State last year with just 30 of those coming on the ground. However, they still lost. The defensive performance was dominant, as the Seminoles returned an interception for a touchdown and started two drives inside the Florida 20-yard line because of other interceptions. The Florida defense is hoping to replicate its strong performance on Saturday.

The issue for the Florida defense was the same on that it dealt with all season. The Gators couldn't force any turnover. The Florida State defense created havoc for quarterback John Brantley and forced him to turn the ball over. The Seminoles couldn't get the offense going, but with the short field position the defense created, it didn't matter.

"They finished when we had a chance to get some takeaways and we didn't do it," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "That was the one thing when you look back and say, ‘Man, we may have missed some opportunities,' and us having to create some opportunities to get the ball from them."

The game also gave Quinn a chance to get involved in the Florida-Florida State rivalry for the first time.

"It was my first game against Florida State as a coach and you have a sense already of what this rivalry is about, but I don't think you can fully appreciate it until you're at it," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "It's a terrific rivalry and one I'm looking forward to being a part of again."

The Gators would love to have the same defensive production against Florida State this year, but the Seminoles are improved on that side of the ball. It starts with a senior quarterback. E.J. Manuel is experienced in the offense head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to run.

He also has the ability to change the game with his legs. The Gators are used to preparing for quarterbacks that can do that. After facing Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, Jordan Rodgers at Vanderbilt, Connor Shaw at South Carolina and others, the Florida defense has prepared all season for opposing quarterbacks that can use their legs. Manuel is no different.

"You respect his ability to create and do things on the run," Quinn said. "The fact that we've had some opportunity to go through that and certainly against our own club, from playing against Jeff, he's another quarterback who can move and run. That's been a little bit more of a theme in terms of the defenses and the style that we've played against. There have been some mobile quarterbacks. This is another one and another really good one."

When Manuel's legs are contained, the Florida State running game can give teams problems. Chris Thompson is lost for the year with an ACL injury, but freshman Devonta Freeman and sophomore James Wilder have stepped in to create a timeshare at the position.

Freeman is the one capable of explosive plays. He uses his speed on the edge to break long runs, while Wilder is the power back that likes contact and running through tackles. The two have helped the Seminoles run the ball more effectively than they did last year.

"They're really effective running the ball," Quinn said. "They've really done a nice job in that area. To our credit, we have, too. I would imagine there are some parallels between the two organizations wanted to make some improvements. You emphasize it and you're getting some of those results.

"Both clubs are more efficient and more effective running the ball. The more attempts you have running the ball and controlling the clock, it gives you a better chance to win. Their style is maybe a little more run than they have been last year."

Wilder's toughness has been important in short-yardage situations, including a crucial short-yardage conversion that kept the Seminoles in the game against Virginia Tech, but Freeman's home run ability has been pounded into the head of the Florida defense this week.

"He's a bounce-out runner who's got real speed to get to the edge. I think when you talk about running backs, there's inside runners and outside runners and guys who want to bounce out and get out to the outside – that's where some of the big perimeter runs have been for them. He's one that certainly has our attention and the way that we have to play."

Manuel has a diverse group of wide receivers to help him. Quinn pointed out the precision and route running of Rashad Greene while the size of Rodney Smith and Kelvin Benjamin can also create issues.

"Here's a 6-4, 6-5 receiver who plays outside and then they have some quick guys who play inside," Quinn said.

Benjamin creates matchups all over the field, regardless of how teams choose to cover him. Quinn said that decision still hasn't been made for the Florida defense. The Seminoles move him around on offense in the slot and out wide, so the Gators could have linebackers or corners covering him at different times of the game.

The 6-5, 243-pound redshirt freshman will be one the Gators are constantly trying to find on the field.

"He's big, and he can run for a guy that size," Quinn said. "You generally say, 'OK, is that the tight end? No, this is a receiver.' And he kind of looks like a big Mike Williams. He's a big guy that can go catch it and a good athlete, so he certainly had our attention."

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