The lengthy calls left more room for the inexperienced players to think the wrong coverage was called. What that produced was Alabama receivers and running backs running wide open through the Florida secondary.
“From my standpoint as a coach and a coaching staff, we’ve got to do a better job of making things a little simpler for them and making sure that doesn’t happen,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “I know we’re talented enough. We’ve got guys that are willing and ready to compete. We need to make sure we’re in the right spots.”
The Gators have had a lot of success in the last 10 years with freshmen defensive backs. Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins had great seasons under Urban Meyer, and the Will Muschamp regime has produced strong freshman years from Vernon Hargreaves III and Marcus Roberson.
The hope was that one of the freshmen would step up this season, but even though Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson have played well, they haven’t played to an All-SEC level. Both freshmen should get an uptick in snaps this weekend and a better chance to make plays in Knoxville.
It’s certainly not just the freshmen. The safety and nickel positions have struggles with senior Jabari Gorman, sophomore Keanu Neal and redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye. Gorman is the only player with extended experience on defense before this season.
“Sometimes when you get young players, they’re focused and worried about where they’ve got to be as opposed to looking and communicating and all being on the same page,” Durkin said. “It’s when one guy is playing one and another guy is playing a different coverage where you get a problem. That’s what it was. We’ve emphasized a bunch through this time in the bye of our communication and simplified things so there wasn’t as many checks.”
When coverage breakdowns have happened in past years, the veteran secondary was able to correct the issues on the sideline and make sure it didn’t happen again that game. For Florida’s inexperienced secondary at Alabama, one issue caused another. It continued to snowball until the Crimson Tide started to run the clock out at the end of the game.
It ended with the Florida defense being on the field for 87 snaps, the most Durkin could remember since he came to Florida in 2010.
“When you do that you start to get worn down and now you don’t look so good either because you’re tired and all those things kinda spiral,” Durkin said. “We’ll be alright. We’ve narrowed it down some more and I think we’re ready to go.”
But Durkin made sure to point out that the simplification won’t lead the Florida defense to be vanilla and easy for the Tennessee offensive staff to figure out. They’ll remain as complex for opposing offenses as possible while still trying to make it easy on the inexperienced secondary.
“We’re not going to be vanilla,” Durkin said. “We’re not just gonna play one thing or anything like that but our guys. We’re going to try and help them be in the right spot, so they can go show what they can do.”