The defense has been up to the challenge through the first six games this season. The Gators rank in the top 16 nationally in scoring defense (14.3 points), total defense (296.3 yards) and rush defense (99.2 yards).
Florida coach Jim McElwain has compared his defense to the 2009 Alabama defense, calling it the only “benchmark that I’m personally aware of.” Flipping on the film for review after a game is always an enjoyable moment for the Florida staff, being able to watch their defense fly around the field.
“We’re playing at a really, really high level,” McElwain said. “Here’s the thing that amazes me when I watch these guys -- how fast they play. The coverage has been good, and they don’t allow the quarterback to get his feet set and make accurate throws. (Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock) is going to be a very good quarterback but that was a great lesson for a freshman right there against that defense.
It’s not a surprise that the Florida defense is excelling. The Gators brought back a lot of talent from last year’s team, but there were still questions about how the players would handle a staff change. There are no signs of a hangover through the first six games. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has his unit playing fast on the field and not overthinking things.
More than anything, McElwain likes how his defense has bought into the team concept. They appreciate what is happening on other areas of the team. McElwain said they thanked the offense for dominating time of possession 37:53-22:07 at Missouri, allowing the defense to stay fresh and play at a high level.
“I’m just proud of the way they’re playing and how they’ve bought in,” McElwain said. “They are totally invested in the whole Gator offense, defense as a team and what we can do to get better as a team. There’s a lot of positives that are happening. They’re recognizing Johnny Townsend putting the ball inside the 20, inside the 10 and forcing a team going long field. It isn't about one unit or the other unit, it’s about the Gators. Right now, we’re playing pretty good Gator football and it’s fun to see.”
PREPARING FOR FOURNETTE
LSU running back Leonard Fournette leads the country with 204.4 rushing yards per game, which is 46 yards more than Florida State’s Dalvin Cook in second place. The 6-1, 230-pounder has a season’s worth of highlight reel runs through the Tigers’ first five games.
“From a defensive standpoint, you’re facing arguably the best player in college football,” McElwain said of Fournette. “His production, it’s what it is. It’s unbelievable. Now you have to go challenge yourself. We’ll see how we do in practice.”
The best running back Florida has faced so far this season was Jalen Hurd at Tennessee, and that didn’t go well for the Gators. They won the game, but it came with a poor tackling performance that allowed Hurd to rush for 102 yards. McElwain joked that Fournette must love watching film from that game and thinking about how many yards he’ll be able to put up if the Gators tackle that poorly in Baton Rouge.
“We’ll see if we actually wrap up,” McElwain said. “Or maybe (Fournette) called the guy in Tennessee and said, ‘Hey these guys don’t tackle.’ (Fournette is) probably excited as hell right now. I may be staring at a 300-yard game against these guys.”
NIGHT GAME IN DEATH VALLEY
Playing at LSU is one of the toughest road environments in the country, but doing so in a night game is even tougher. McElwain was a part of one during the 2008 season when he was the offensive coordinator for Alabama. The Crimson Tide won a 27-21 game in overtime, but that atmosphere still sticks in the back of McElwain’s mind.
“Great fan base,” McElwain said. “That was a lot of fun and so I look at the environment, and it should be a win for them from an environment standpoint because of how hostile it is, crazy it is.”