Of the defense’s seven tackles for a loss, the defensive linemen combined for six of them. The reason for that was South Carolina’s focus on slowing Florida linebackers Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison.
While most teams Florida has played this season have focused on double teaming as many of the Gators’ defensive linemen as possible, South Carolina tried to block the Florida linemen one-on-one while using extra blockers to get to the second level and take Davis and/or Morrison out of the play. Davis and Morrison lead the Gators in tackles with 7.4 and 6.7 tackles per game, respectively.
On Saturday, they combined for six tackles.
“These guys that we just played were tired of seeing the two linebackers make all these plays,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “They singled blocked a lot of our down line and went to second level. The play of the d-line holding their gap, being gap sound in everything that they’re doing, it was unbelievable. It was great to see.”
That allowed the sack party to begin for the defensive line. Jordan Sherit had 1.5 sacks despite playing in only the second half. Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox, Jr. each had a sack while Jonathan Bullard had half of a sack. Freshman defensive end CeCe Jefferson had two tackles for a loss.
The unit has been consistent all season, but it hasn’t always shown up in the box score like it did on Saturday. While the coaching staff continues to preach team defense, the linemen bought in and saw how much their play was helping the entire unit. When the opposing offense’s approach changed on Saturday, they were able to tee off and make a major impact.
The Florida defensive line lived in the backfield on Saturday, stifling any hope the Gamecocks had of getting consistent production on the ground or through the air.
“Sometimes what happens to you when you get a bunch of talented guys and then they start going off on their own trying [to say], 'Hey, this is me. Everybody take notice.' That's when things show up that playing team -- I emphasize the word team -- defense is really something that's awesome to see.
HARRIS SHOWING PROGRESS
Treon Harris’ statistics took a big step forward against South Carolina -- going 19-33 through the air for 256 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions -- but that only tells part of the story. The Florida offensive line protected much better than it did the week before against Vanderbilt, and the sophomore quarterback didn’t try to move out of the pocket much.
McElwain called the team ‘a little bit better’ with its passing efficiency at South Carolina, and there were multiple throws Harris simply missed or threw too late. However, Harris is showing progress as Florida heads down the stretch of the regular season.
“There are things I think he’s seeing,” McElwain said. “I think he moved up in the pocket much better in this game rather than just trying to bail out one way or the other. I think his pocket awareness, shuffling and finding throwing angles was a little better.”
Deandre Goolsby had only a 23-yard reception on Saturday, but he had a 29-yard reception that was called back because of an illegal formation. Even if the sophomore tight end isn’t receiving the same recognition as Mackey Award semifinalist Jake McGee, Goolsby has shown he can make big catches and break tackles for extra yardage.
He’s fifth on the team with 261 receiving yards, but McElwain said the sophomore is still learning.
"He has probably learned over the last four weeks the importance of what you do in practice helps you in the game,” McElwain said. “It’s been great to see, because he’s had a couple really great weeks of practice. Effort, attention to detail, speed at which he’s trying to do it, finish. He can answer how much he kind of just walked through stuff before. The behavior in which you practice and how you practice usually shows up on Saturday in your production.
“He’s a case that I’ve been really proud at how hard he’s put into the practice part the last couple weeks. With that being said, it shows up in the game. I’m glad you’ve seen that, because he has really practiced really well about the last three weeks."
McGee is the most likely tight end target in the passing game, but when asked if Goolsby could see an increase in targets, McElwain went to one of his favorite adages.
"Take what the defense gives you and eventually they give you the game," McElwain said.