In a game where the defense gave up just one score and that was aided by three costly penalties, Khairi Clark was called out by Florida head coach Jim McElwain as the player of the game on defense.
“A guy that kind of didn't show up in the stats but I thought played his tail off and really was our player of the game on defense was Khairi Clark on the inside,” McElwain told the Florida media Monday after watching the defensive film with the defensive staff. “What he did to hold point, maintaining his gap control, and not peek in a game like that where they were running the lead fullback and that kind of stuff, I thought he really, really played well for us defensively.”
Clark, who has been rather quiet in his time here at Florida has actually played pretty well. He appreciated the sentiments from the head Gator.
“The praise felt real good, coming from the head coach,” Clark told the media this week. “Someone like me as a nose tackle we don’t really get that much praise and it always feels real good to get that from Coach Mac. We always work the hardest on the defense.”
“The first game I felt real comfortable. I prepared hard last week to come out and dominate during the game. I didn’t put up a lot of stats, I only had 2-3 tackles, but I was maintaining my gap a lot and that is what you should do as a nose. So it felt pretty good.”
Clark changed his body in the offseason. He lost some weight before the 2015 campaign and played better because of it, now he’s lost some of the right kind of weight and is in the best shape of his life. It has really helped his game.
“My preparation was different this summer compared to last year,” he said. “I just thought in my mind that I needed to work harder, slim up, get quicker, and get stronger. I focused on that the most this summer.”
Clark has been studious since he arrived on campus. Very coachable, he soaks in his responsibilities and then transfers those to the football field. Having his body right has made it that much easier to do his job.
“The coaches told me my opportunity was very high because they noticed my work ethic,” he said. “They know I always do everything right in practice, I work hard, I’m coachable, I do everything right in the classroom, and when it comes to football I’m just always in the right zone.”
The job of a nose tackle is to do all the dirty work. Everyone sees linebackers Jarrad Davis or Alex Anzalone screaming through a hole to make a tackle in the backfield, what they don’t really notice is that guys like Clark doing his job and taking up two linemen to allow those linebackers to rake up the tackles. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to make some plays as well that draw the cameras.
“My personal expectation is to put up more stats and be more of a vocal leader and make my name more known in college football,” Clark said. “As a nose tackle you don’t really hear much about them and we always do our job. I feel like we should be noticed more.
Well, the coaches really appreciate the job when done correctly.
“He’s really done a great job,” McElwain said. “He understands about doing your job. Sometimes guys up front try to do too much, like peek back in the gap where the linebacker is filling for but then now they’ll cheat back and that will open up. It’s the gap control up front that forces you to have great defense, not only in the rush lanes, but obviously in the run game. You got to be gap sound, and what he does he holds point, he knows where he’s supposed to be and he’s disciplined about doing it. He’s lost some weight. He’s become much quicker and his snap is much better too, as he goes to get his hands engaged on the O-lineman.”
He’s become an integral part of a deep defensive line now. It is a group at Florida that has a lot of talent and should set the stage this year on how well the defense plays. It has become a close unit and one that feeds off of the play of the others up front.
We all push each other to the limit no matter what position you play because we all depend on each other when it comes to the game and everybody depends on us,” Clark said of the defensive line. “There (aren’t any) DB’s or linebackers without the D-Line, so I feel like we’re the most important people on the defense.