The secondary was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Eastern Michigan wasn’t talented enough to test it, and Kentucky delivered the first test on Saturday. And the Florida secondary failed.
Lack of communication caused most of the problems, including a busted coverage that allowed a 60-yard touchdown that gave Kentucky a 10-6 lead. The blame fell on Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal on that play, but Muschamp was encouraged with how the secondary responded after that. Neal came down with two interceptions after a big mistake that cost the Gators points.
“A young player goes through a very tough deal in front of 90,000 people and obviously everybody knows he's probably somewhat responsible for what happened,” Will Muschamp said. “And then he rebounds himself and comes back and plays well in the game, and really settled down from there and played extremely well.”
Muschamp didn’t rule out the possibility of making changes in the secondary as the Gators head to Alabama this weekend. However, the film study and week of practice should provide the needed help to clean up issues. The safeties on the team need to be more vocal and get the calls to the rest of the defense clearly.
They also need to avoid letting things snowball, as it did for the Florida secondary on Saturday.
“What happens a lot when you have a guy that gives up a play, you start playing a little cautious instead of playing aggressive,” Muschamp said. “You get tentative in your techniques and that’s what happened to us a little bit.
“We just have got to make a play on the ball in those situations and go play the ball, be aggressive and keep that same mentality regardless of the situation and understand that you’ve always got to stay aggressive on the back end. That’s where I felt like we got a little tentative when we gave up (plays).”
The tempo of the Kentucky offense also gave the Gators some problems. The communication in the secondary had to come quicker, and the defense had to get lined up quicker. That didn’t always happen.
“It’s just communication, that’s all that was,” Hargreaves said. “We’ve gotta get lined up quicker. Kentucky, they were going fast, and it happens. We’re going to fix it today. It was really just communication, being on the same page.”
The Gators were beaten by freshman Garrett Johnson down the field on multiple plays. Even taking out the blown coverage that turned into a touchdown, he was an impact receiver down the field. Sometimes, that’s going to happen. Facing Alabama this weekend, Amari Cooper is talented enough to make plays even if the coverage is perfect.
It’s the breakdowns in the secondary that can’t happen, and the Gators are optimistic that it won’t happen again.
“The encouraging thing for me as you watch the film is it's all correctable,” Muschamp said. “You're not looking at it going 'wow we couldn't cover this guy.' That wasn't the case.”
The pass rush can also help the Florida secondary by giving the opposing quarterback less time to throw. The Kentucky offense got the ball out quickly, and the Gators only recorded two sacks during the game. The tempo of the Wildcats’ offense wore out the Florida defensive line.
Dante Fowler played well, especially late in the game, but the other pass rushers got tired and were less effective.
“We need to build more with Alex McCalister,” Muschamp said. “We need to build more with Neiron Ball in pass rush. Because of the tempo, it was a little difficult to sub in some situations, and we couldn't get to some running packages we wanted to.”
Muschamp said the Florida defense hit the quarterback between 15 and 17 times on 40 drop backs, a ratio he was happy with even if it didn’t produce sacks.
“That's pretty good numbers as far as ratio is concerned of hitting the quarterback and having some pressures,” Muschamp said. “I do feel like we didn't affect him as much as the game wore on, and I think that a little of those issues were some breakdowns on the back end and it wasn't as much due to the rush.
“There's no question we need to get more speed on the field in those situations and we need to get more production other than Dante as an edge rusher. You know, we had some decent push inside at times, but we need to get more.”
INJURY REPORT: The only player Florida expects to be without this weekend at Alabama is left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle). Chaz Green will start at left tackle and Rod Johnson will start at right tackle, just as they did on Saturday against Kentucky.