The defense sought to atone for the unconvincing seven-point effort against MAC competition in the SEC opener. Coach McElwain was pleased with four turnovers created on the afternoon and stressed that they are vital to the way the Gators
“I think they obviously gave us opportunities, which we didn’t have last week. We got some turnovers, and that’s how we have to play.”
The key to the transformation, in the words of Gators junior cornerback Quincy Wilson, was execution. Last week’s tape saw many an arm tackle and blown assignment from a defense that was projected to be amongst the best in the country heading into this season. This included the busted coverage that would lead to a 53-yard completion, UMASS’s longest play of the evening. Wilson believes that the additional attention to detail made the difference tonight.
“That was the main thing for us; cutting down on the mistakes that we made last week, not giving up some deep balls.”
The defense enjoyed the return of pre-season All-American Teez Tabor, not least of which was Wilson. Tabor enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015 in the very role that Wilson will play for the Gators this season. Taking advantage of the defense attempting to avoid future first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III, Tabor was given ample opportunities to make a name for himself in 2015 and did, joining Hargreaves on the SEC Coaches First Team ALL-SEC Defense. Tabor is now the corner that earns a heightened sense of awareness from the opposing team and Wilson knows just how frustrating that can be. Last week, Wilson noted that he believed that UMASS was throwing to the opposite side of the field a lot, as he was the number one guy with Tabor out through suspension. The opposite was true tonight and Wilson was up to task with the added attention.
“Oh yeah, I definitely noticed that tonight. they came at me twice today. If he wasn’t there, they would have just attacked the other side, so it worked out for all of us.”
Wilson is off the mark in this role with style, recording his forth interception of his career in Orange and Blue. A lot will be asked of him this season, but he believes that the secondary might have just faced their most difficult opponents of the season. The Wildcats presented the defensive backfield with perhaps the most physical set of receivers the Gators will see outside of Tallahassee this year and Wilson believes that they answered the challenge.
“Throughout the week, we worked on our press and our technique. We were ready for the matchup because their guys (Kentucky’s receivers) are probably the best we’ll see all season.”
Although he was excited about the pick, Wilson did not mince words when asked if he saw it all the way.
“I wasn’t expecting to do that but it just happened,” chuckled Wilson. “I noticed from the split what type of route he was running, so I just covered it, turned, and the ball was coming so I threw my hand out and it kind of just stuck there. So I said: ‘Oh, it’s time to go’.”
This much is certain: not all 7-point defensive efforts are created equal. The Gators absolutely smothered a Kentucky team that was a popular pick to end their now-30-year losing streak on a blistering afternoon in Gainesville on Saturday. Florida pitched a shutout and held the Wildcats to under 100 total yards until late in the fourth quarter. If the Gators defense can execute like they did today, the result will be in hand early in the game many times this season, much like it was today.