Saturday against Eastern Michigan was more indication of what we thought all fall about the Florida defense. The defensive line is going to have to dictate the pace of the defense. In this case, it was more of the pressure that they can get up front will be big.
We don’t need to talk new scheme or anything with this unit, but I think this defense will be at their best when the front four are doing things at a high level. At the same time the secondary has to play smart more than anything. Stay away from giving up the big play. The linebackers should be solid, but if that front line plays well, they don’t have to be great.Let’s go…
This year’s Dominique Easley is Dante Fowler. They simply have to keep him healthy. We saw early in the game just how quick he is, especially when unblocked. But, he is also very active and he can miss on a play get off the ground and still go make the play. He is that kind of player. He has to have a big year and will if he stays healthy.
His backup is Alex McCalister. McCalister is still getting bigger, but he showed his explosion with the sack he had in the game and when he forced the only interception of the game. He can play stand up linebacker at his weight so he would be a quality BUCK player. He is so long though, that he must add weight to deal with the heavy armed offensive tackles he will face.
I expect Jordan Sherit to work his way into the rotation at some point as well.
They mostly run Neiron Ball as the next BUCK, and we saw what he can do but will get to him with the linebackers.
At defensive end, in normal situations they will start Jonathan Bullard. He didn’t spend a lot of time inside, but he does when the other team is in real passing down situations. Bullard didn’t flash a bunch but he was solid.
Bryan Cox backs him up and he remains a victim of not showing up on the stat sheet. I actually noticed Cox a little more when he played inside on long passing downs and he was doing that early. That is something I didn’t notice in the fall or spring. Regardless, he needs to step it up when in there.
True freshman Gerald Willis has been a beast since arriving on campus. He has a super quick burst off the line and then he brings over 250 pounds with him so he is tough for the tackles to get onto. Willis finished with half a sack and a quarterback hurry, but he made his presence felt much more than that. This guy will continue to get reps and I think he could rush the passer from either side.
The interior guys weren’t overly flashy, but they were doing their job. Leon Orr was active, actually too active with penalties, but he finished third on the team with five tackles including a tackle for loss in the game.
I noticed very little from Darious Cummings, but paid close attention to the punch or pressure they were getting up front between the two of them. I had someone tell me they thought the two tackles got pushed back a lot, so I watched for that specifically on the replay. I didn’t see that. What I did see is that often times it took three to block both and sometimes four. When you get that, it makes it that much easier for the Fowlers, Bullard’s, McCalister’s and Willis’s of the world to get to the ball carrier. That is what happened a lot it seemed.
Brantley was extremely active and showed up all over the stat sheet. He had three tackles, a half tackle, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a quarterback hurry on the night. He also admitted to cheating a couple of times and he will find out against the better teams that this is just what the other team wants you to do. Nevertheless, he has had a very good fall and continued that on Saturday.
Ivie and Bostwick held their own against a pretty big offensive line. That is most of the job for the defensive tackles.
I like the depth long the defensive line and we have been applauding that for the entire preseason. This group will only get better as the season moves along.
Muschamp mentioned it Monday, but the linebackers for the most part had a pretty non-descript day but that was mostly due to the guys up front doing a really good job.
Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor were first and second on the team in tackles and did play most of the last third of the game. We mentioned Ball earlier, but he has found a niche as a pass rusher. He is definitely the fastest linebacker, but he also has a great lean when he runs and can lean around the tackles with great speed to get to the backfield. He finished with two sacks. Another half tackle for loss, a forced fumble of the quarterback, and another quarterback hurry to go with his team high six tackles. A good day and it will be interesting to see how much they use him in the pass rushing capacity. I believe against any team in really long down and distance situations.
Taylor had a quiet five tackles, but is the leader of the defense out there.
Antonio Morrison finished with a single tackle and a fumble recovery, but he seemed to be all over the field.
Jarrad Davis likes to play downhill and play close to the line of scrimmage. He did that a lot on Saturday. E impacts the game because he knows what to do and he does it. He and Taylor should share a lot in the middle.
That had to be the most action for Alex Anzalone. He lined up a bit in a pass rushing role, but doesn’t have that pure speed that Ball has. Not that he played badly, but he wasn’t around the ball a lot.
It was good to see Daniel McMillian on a fumble recovery and also in on a tackle for loss. His time is coming, the mental part of the game is catching up and he will hit that point where he is a difference maker eventually.
We expected more youth to play in the secondary than anywhere else and that is exactly what we got. True freshmen Duke Dawson, Jalen Tabor, and Quincy Wilson saw a lot of action on defense as well as red-shirt freshmen Nick Washington and Marcell Harris. True freshman corner J.C. Jackson played on special teams but left earlier with his shoulder injury. That is a lot of freshmen in one unit.
Dawson made the biggest play of the day among the group and was solid. Maybe the biggest surprise about his early positive play is that he played corner and nickel in the spring and was moved to safety only when fall began. His interception return for a touchdown was a good sign and certainly should clear any jitters he may have as a freshman. Dawson also pressured the quarterback once and looks like a guy they will use to force the action down the line.
Another big surprise is Wilson. He was less heralded than his counterparts at corner and many thought he would end up at safety. He showed up at UF in June with a chip on his shoulder and he had a terrific fall. He finished fourth on the team in tackles (4) and spent a lot of time with the first unit opposite Vernon Hargreaves. He looked physical and in the right place most of the game.
Washington also got a good share of playing time on the day. Again he is a guy we didn’t hear a ton from in the fall, but was a guy that made plays when he was in there for the fall practices. Think he is a little late in some of his moves to the ball, but played solid.
The safeties played well. The longest play on the day was 16 yards and the longest pass play was 13 yards. They were a running team that got behind early, so it wasn’t going to be easy for them But, I thought the starters Keanu Neal and Jabari Gorman played pretty well.
Brian Poole started at corner and moved to NICKEL relatively quickly. We saw that he is a beast as a pass rusher from the NICKEL spot finishing with a tackle for loss and two hurries of the quarterback. He did get beat one time on a crossing pattern and fell behind the receiver in coverage. It is something to watch.
They didn’t test Vernon Hargreaves much and the one time they did he broke up the pass. The sophomore is a preseason All-American and we expect him to play like that.
Kickoffs and KO Coverage
Everyone is going to remember the kicks out of bounds from Austin Hardin. They forget he nailed three kickoffs out of bounds spotting the Eagles at the 25-yard line and also kicked it good enough four other times the coverage landed the Eagles inside the 20-yard line.
The kickoff coverage was really good outside of the two times they had to kick from the 20 because of penalties assessed on the kickoffs. On those two returns, the end result would have been like the ball being downed at the 28 and 31 yard line, so not all that bad. Overall the coverage unit was great.
Punts and Punt Coverage
Well Kyle Christy found his leg again. He netted a 48.3 yard average on the day and a long of 60, but he needs to get back to that 2012 form where the long one doesn’t end up in the end zone, but inside the 10 or so. Still, we saw the leg from 2012 and from the spring.
The Gators gave up just one return yard on the three punts.
Punt Returns and Punt Block
My only criticism in the punt return game is on Hargreaves. Not the fact that he was back there to receive the punt on one play, but that he caught the ball on the fly at the eight yard line. The golden rule… if a high punt is going to land inside the 10 yard line, you let it go and the biggest odds are that it will bounce into the end zone for a touchback (ball at the 25). Some are concerned that Hargreaves was back there, but they think so much of him as a ball player that they trust him to catch the ball and not bobble it that close to the goal line. He was never going to return it.
Then there is Andre Debose. This is a weapon we didn’t consider much in the fall preseason. We didn’t watch the punt game much and he hasn’t done it in his career before this year. Boy what a waste that was. If he stays healthy it seems that it will be a huge upset for him not to return at least one for a touchdown before the season is over.
He did get off to a rocky start losing a couple of yards on the first one trying to make something happen. But, he made that up quickly and often during the game. He netted 97 punt return yards on 4 chances. A plus-96 net over Eastern Michigan on the day.