It’s only part of the story, though.
What people don’t see, according to Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor, is how close the unit is off the field. They spend a majority of their time together when they’re away from the practice field, and the players are convinced that has a lot to do with their success in recent seasons.
"We're the closest unit on the team,” Tabor said. “We might be the closest unit in all of college football. We compete with each other and make each other better. I feel like off the field we're just as close as we are on the field."
The close relationships continue into the meeting room. As close as the group is and as strong as their friendships are, that doesn’t mean the players hold back from getting on each other if a mistake is made. When defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan is going over the film, they’ll get to the mistakes made.
The accountability takes over at that point.
“They’re each other’s biggest critics but they’re also each other’s biggest fans, which is really cool,” Callahan said. “When Jalen screws up, Vernon (Hargreaves) may be the first one to sit there and get on him. The same thing in the safety world; if Nick (Washington) screws up, Marcus (Maye) is going to be sitting there saying ‘hey, do this.’ That’s the cool thing about it. Even though they are close friends they are very competitive and they all push each other to be better in all aspects.”
Tabor added, “We’re the closest unit in college football just what we do on and off the field. We know where each other will be on the field, we know how to play certain routes just because we’ve been together for so long. Off the field, in the meeting room, even when we’re not playing football, we’re still a close unit.”
The defense had a strong debut against New Mexico State, allowing 200 yards with 128 coming through the air. The Gators allowed some big plays in the passing game, especially in the first half, before allowing -1 yard to the Aggies in the second half of the game.
Tabor said the Gators were able to do it while playing vanilla on the defensive side of the ball and holding back some things that could cause problems for offenses.
“I don’t think we really showed much, just the basic stuff,” Tabor said. “Stuff that we’re going to do on base downs, stuff that we’re going to do throughout the season, so we really didn’t (show) much.”
This week of preparation has been focused on an East Carolina offense the Gators got to know well over the bowl preparation last year. The Florida secondary returns most of its important pieces from last year, and even with ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley leaving after last season, the scheme is still the same.
The Pirates are going to spread the field out and throw the ball. It’s an exciting challenge for a Florida secondary that gave up 427 yards through the air in the Birmingham Bowl win over ECU.
“I know they’re going to be coached well,” Tabor said. “They’ve got a great coaching staff over there, they like the Air Raid offense. They put up a lot of yards on us last year, but we got key turnovers in the red zone. I know they’re going to be coached well, and I know they have some pretty good guys at receiver. It’s going to be a good game.”