Anzalone has big opener for Gators

Saturday was the day Alex Anzalone has waited for since he committed to Florida.

He played in 22 games over his first two seasons on campus, but they were all in backup roles as a linebacker. When the new Florida staff came in during the spring, they targeted Anzalone as a leader at linebacker and made sure he would be ready to play a big role this fall.

On Saturday night, he proved he could handle it.

The junior linebacker led the Gators with five tackles and was an important part of the run defense. He got off New Mexico State blocks with ease and made sure the defense was lined up when Antonio Morrison wasn’t on the field. Morrison already called Anzalone the quarterback of the defense, but on Saturday, he showed that vocal leadership is only part of what he can do.

The junior earned his first career start at linebacker on Saturday, and he was noticeable all over the field.

“It’s not jitters, but you’re seeing what you actually expected from practice,” Alex Anzalone said. “It’s just reassuring what you’ve learned from the previous week.”

He was part of a Florida defense that looked shaky at times during the first half. The Gators were down three starters on defense and had communication issues that left New Mexico State receivers open. The Aggies put up 200 yards of offense during the first half, forcing the Gators to regroup in the locker room.

New Mexico State totaled -1 yard in the second half. Anzalone credited the defense being more clear with their communication.

“It’s something that needs to happen every day. It’s a loud stadium we play in, especially on third downs and big plays, it’s a little harder for us to communicate. If we put the effort towards it, it will get better.

“Obviously they were moving the ball on us a little bit in the first half, but I think what was big for us this game was how we came out in the second half. The first game is one of those deals where you have to get used to playing. One of the biggest things for us is coming out in the second half.”

Even more impressive was the Gators not being called for a penalty until the final minutes of the game. There was one penalty on the entire night. It has been a huge emphasis for the new Florida staff after the Gators were one of the most penalized teams in the country over the last four years.

“That was awesome. I don’t think there were any procedural penalties. That’s big time for us, especially the past couples years when we haven’t ranked too well in the penalty area.

“It’s what Coach Mac instills in us -- being disciplined players. If we’re disciplined, penalties won’t happen. In the past, we’ve known it’s wrong. But Coach Mac just says it’s all about the little things and attention to detail. It’s one of the biggest things he emphasizes.”

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