Saturday was so bad that the Gators gave up a school record 645 total yards to the Alabama offense. Alabama’s first two scores were touchdown strikes in the air of 87 and 79 yards. This isn’t what we are used to seeing of a Will Muschamp defense.
“Missed tackles and a lack of communication in the defense… we have to communicate and get on the same page and we didn’t do that in this game,” Florida sophomore safety Keanu Neal said after the 42-21 loss and appeared at least slightly responsible for both of the big touchdown throws in the first quarter.
The Gators are minus three starters from the secondary a year ago. Not only that, but Neal hardly played a down on defense as a true freshman last year, starting NICKEL Marcus Maye was benched early in the year after giving up a big play in game two, and the safety Jabari Gorman has played a good deal, but few starts. The inexperience is showing big time especially among those three positions.
“It’s just the coverage, when we get a coverage and have to adjust, we have to communicate it to each other,” Neal said. When they motion, we have to communicate that too and we didn’t do that well today.”
It wasn’t all on the safeties. Brian Poole is a starting corner and was playing in the slot a few times. On the 76 yard touchdown to All-American Amari Cooper the junior, who is a seasoned player, misunderstood the play call and left Cooper uncovered in the man defense. Neal didn’t help things by biting on a short route that left Cooper exposing the secondary some 40-50 yards down field and an easy walk-in touchdown.
“I was supposed to shoot the one, and (Poole) was supposed to shoot over,” Neal said of the play. “He thought it was a different coverage because of the motion and he stayed over and the guy was free.”
There were times when Alabama sped up the ball, that shouldn’t have been an issue but Florida kept hurting themselves.
“It was just a lack of communication, it wasn’t too fast,” Neal said. “(The crowd noise) wasn’t a factor at all. They were on offense, so the crowd wasn’t loud. It was easy to communicate and we just didn’t.
“We didn’t align very well. We walked to the line and things like that. That is the worst thing in the world to do in a game with high tempo. They didn’t do it for most of the game but they started to do it.”
Alabama senior quarterback Blake Sims wasn’t perfect on the night, but he was close. Sims was 23-33 for 445 yards, one interception, and four touchdowns. It was a personal best for him and nearly a school record for passing yards. He also was deft with the ball in his hands and running it, often times escaping the pass rush, finishing with 41 yards rushing and only allowing one sack for -8 yards.
“We knew he was a great athlete and could throw the ball,” Neal said of Sims. “We just had to cover the guys. We knew he was a scrambler so we knew we had to cover the receivers twice. We did it for the most part, but we let some slip away.”
Alabama junior receiver Amari Cooper was also a beast on the night hauling in 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper lined up all over the field keeping Florida’s All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves from being able to line up with him most of the time. The miss-matches were far too often, although Neal contends the big plays were still just a result of miscommunication.
“We haven’t (played any as good as him) this year but I am sure we will face plenty more as good as him,” Neal said. “We could have stopped him, it was just a lack of communication on our part and didn’t do that.”
They better not see many more as good as Cooper and if so they better get the communication right.