Notebook: Avoiding slow starts

The last three games have been slow starts for the Florida defense.

Against Georgia, the Gators couldn’t stop Nick Chubb on the ground and gave up a long touchdown run to fall behind 7-0 early. At Vanderbilt, the Commodores marched down the field on a touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead.

In both of those games, the defense improved and wasn’t a problem for the rest of the game.

When Florida hosted South Carolina last week, the Gamecocks put 151 yards and 10 points on the board in the first two drives. The defense settled in and had a better day, just like it did in the previous two games.

The Gators are hoping to fix that on Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.

“If I knew how to do it, I would,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “There’s three weeks in a row where we gave up an early touchdown. You’d say we probably shouldn’t have, but teams are executing against us, too. Give them credit. Guys have bounced back in each one of those and really tie those down and made some adjustments on the side and they played well.

“I’d like for us to start faster and not give up that quick seven. I think it’s a combination of a couple things. It’s a different issue each time, not the same issue popping up. We’re talking about it and addressing it with our guys.”

THIN AT LINEBACKER: Florida linebackers Neiron Ball and Jarrad Davis will miss the rest of the season. Davis tore his meniscus on the opening kickoff against the Gamecocks, and Ball also hurt his knee, needing microfracture surgery.

That leaves only Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor from the four linebackers Florida has played this season.

The injuries force Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian into action on Saturday. Anzalone has played the most this season out of the two and can fill different roles on the Florida defense.

"He's played well,” Durkin said. “He's done a good job with the roles we've asked him to do. He's very intelligent player and knows all the spots for us. Which has been good for him and for us, where he can fill in where ever we need him. So no those snaps will increase and I think he'll do well with them."

NOT OVERLOOKING EASTERN KENTUCKY: Florida learned the hard way last season about overlooking their non-conference opponent the week before facing Florida State. The 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern stole national headlines, and the Gators have to be careful to avoid that on Saturday.

Eastern Kentucky comes into Saturday 9-2 this year, and it will be their last game of the season. Florida will have an emotional day. It’s Senior Day, and the final home game for the players’ beloved head coach, Will Muschamp.

The Colonels come into Saturday’s game averaging 35.1 points and 442.7 yards per game.

“If you’re playing the best team on your schedule or whoever they are, it’s about playing consistently,” Durkin said. “That’s the challenge for our guys. Be consistent in your performance.”

NEAL RETURNS: Florida will get sophomore safety Keanu Neal back on Saturday. He suffered a high ankle sprain early against Georgia and hasn’t played since. He’ll be back on the field against Eastern Kentucky.

“Keanu’s a great player, he’s fast he’s physical, he makes a lot of checks and calls for us on the backend, so we’re thrilled to have him back,” Durkin said. “He’s a real good football player and he’s excited to be back. He loves to play the game you can see it in his eyes.”

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