Defense thrived again on turnovers

There are two things that Florida head coach Will Muschamp wanted to accomplish in the offseason in regards to having his team better prepared for a new year. First and foremost he wanted to have his team be tougher and more resilient late in games, something that they lacked entirely a year ago. Second, he wanted to really win the turnover battle and make that be a big part of any contest.

Saturday was a microcosm of the season in terms of these two traits from this Florida squad. In terms of turnovers, the Gators needed to get better on both sides of the ball. Limiting their own cough-ups and forcing their opponents to relinquish the ball at a much higher rate.

A year ago neither side of the ball helped each other with turnovers and the Gators couldn't keep their defense off the field or their offense on the field.

A new mindset and training led to a big change in turnover margin and now the two sides of the ball feed off of each other.

"There's no master mix or anything, we just do it for each other," junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said following Florida's 37-26 win over Florida State Saturday. "If that's what we need and need to get the ball back, we understand the situation and just how we play. If we are up, we put our foot on the gas. Can I say the same thing about last year? No. But we practiced it and worked on it and got it together.

Against the Seminoles, who came in as one of the more efficient offenses in the country, the Gators forced five turnovers. FSU senior quarterback E.J. Manuel delivered three interceptions to the orange and blue while the Noles also coughed up two fumbles on the day.

"We made a difference," Floyd said as the gators turned two turnovers into 14 points. "We go out and have to win the turnover battle. (Junior linebacker) Michael Taylor said it before we went on the field today that we were going to win the turnover battle."

The offense did their part as well. Not only did they capitalize on the two turnovers, they only gave up the ball once on a miscue between quarterback and running back. Florida was also able to hold the ball for almost 13 minutes more than the Noles.

"We are playing for each other," Floyd said. "We are playing to give the offense the ball back and the offense will score. They are going to do what they have to do and if they happen to go three and out, we are going to go out there and fight to give them the ball back again. That is just our mentality. We don't care what's happening we are going to play our next play."

After only garnering 14 turnovers all of last season, the gators are sitting at 29 with a game left to play. They are ranked fifth in the country in turnover margin as the offense continues to hold on to the ball as well. In the lone loss of the season, Florida turned the ball over six times and took it away three, there is little doubt it is a huge stat and was on Saturday.

"It definitely affected the momentum in the game because if you win the turnover battle and big play battle, you win the game," Floyd said. "Special teams definitely contributed. Shout out to them boys, because we couldn't do it without them either."

One game changing turnover came in the third quarter as freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison smashed Manuel on a scramble and Manuel spit the ball out for junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley to corral. The hit was so hard and ferocious; it actually caused Floyd to halt for a few seconds during the action.

"I was standing right in front of it and when it happened I stopped for a minute and (thought) ‘is he asleep?'," Floyd said of what he thought was a knockout of Manuel. "(Morrison) just came out of nowhere and just laid him. We know Antonio is a physical linebacker and the next thing I am looking for is the ball. He wasn't holding on to that. Dominique Easley scooped it up… and it was more momentum for our defense. (Morrison) has a bright future ahead of him."

The resolve and resiliency of this team is uncanny. Seemingly behind all year late in the game, they have found a way to bounce back and win 11 games this year. The defense has continued to come up big whether it is getting a turnover or just holding teams to a field goal after getting good field position. It doesn't matter what the scoreboard reads or where momentum has supposedly swung, the businesslike approach to each play and set of downs has allowed the defense to just go out and play ball.

"We just know how to play the next play," Floyd said. "When they come out and they are up and have to give the offense the ball back, we are going to give them the ball back. It doesn't matter if it's a 10 or 12 play drive, they aren't going to get in our end zone and most of the time will settle for a field goal."

They also don't let the crowd noise affect them. Floyd and company were 4-0 in games that were played in opposing team's stadiums. They knew from a year ago that this 10 win Seminole team was beatable.

"We've been playing good on the road all year except for the one in Jacksonville," he said. "We aren't surprised or shocked because this one has been on our schedule for a long time. We knew last year's game wasn't what it was supposed to be. I think they averaged last year less than inch in carries. It says a lot of what we can do and capable of. We just came in and played how we know how to play."

But they did celebrate after the game. They celebrated like a family and Floyd is not shy about talking about it.

"It was very emotional, a lot of people walking around hugging each other," Floyd said of the locker room scene after the game. "Not giving high fives or slapping each other on the ass, but a lot of hugs and ‘I love you.' That's the type of stuff we are in there talking about and how we feel about each other."

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