Slow start hampers Florida defense

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Gators allowed 69 yards over the final three quarters, with 36 coming on a big play after a missed tackle by cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy. However, Florida head coach Will Muschamp didn't hesitate to give the defense plenty of blame. The defensive players agreed. Florida's offense sputtered all game, but the defense struggled by allowing Miami momentum early in the game.

"It hurts worse when there are four or five plays that we could go back and change one play and it would've changed the entire game," Florida defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. "Now we just have to go back to the drawing board and fix it."

The Gators had a few uncharacteristic blown plays on defense. The most glaring was a 52-yard touchdown from Miami quarterback Stephen Morris to Phillip Dorsett, giving the Hurricanes a 14-6 lead in the first quarter. After Matt Jones fumbled on Florida's opening possession, there were plenty of disheartening plays, as Miami marched down the field and scored.

However, after the first quarter came to an end, the Gators played much better. It didn't take the sting from the slow start, which put the pressure on the Florida defense.

"We usually don't give up those plays," Watkins said. "It was unfortunate, but that turned the whole game around, giving up those plays."

The blame for Saturday's loss falls squarely on the shoulders of the offense, but the defense didn't feel like it did its part. Even with a sputtering offense throughout the game, it's not foreign to the Gators. The Florida defense has carried the team for the last four years -- and all three under Will Muschamp.

It's a mindset they've bought into and look forward to every week.

"We kind of let them down. Usually we have their back and we didn't," Watkins said.

"We're a team. Just like they didn't have their best parts, we didn't have our best parts on defense. You can't point any fingers. That's why it's a team. You embrace it as a defense.

"If we turn it over a few times, we stop them and we give our offense back the ball. That's what defense is. So we don't panic. We run out there and we're ready to go."

The Florida defense was focused on running back Duke Johnson throughout the game, and after a few big runs in the first quarter, Johnson was held under wraps. The sophomore rushed 21 times for 59 yards and wasn't a factor in the second half or short yardage situations.

Watkins' veteran presence in the Florida secondary is an important part, especially off the field. When the Gators gave up big plays, he was one of the first to rally the group on the sidelines and get them back together. He did that early in the game on Saturday.

He now has the challenge of regrouping the team heading into a bye week.

"Just bounce back next week," Watkins said. "That's what the game is."

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