Caleb Brantley is surrounded by talent. He is very well aware of the capability that he and his partners on the defensive side of the ball possess. He is also not one to keep this news within the program, as just this spring, Brantley proclaimed himself to be the best defensive lineman in college football. While it might not be accurate, it is not as diluted of a statement as one might think and performances like we saw against Kentucky go a long way to reconciling this reality. Brantley was the subject of double (and even triple) teams nearly every snap that he was on the field. While this prevents him from making a direct impact from a statistical perspective, Brantley’s effort enabled his teammates to makes plays. This is what is important to a player looking to garner All-American credentials for a second straight season.
“Obviously, we work together. We’re a machine,” stated Brantley, who menaced the interior line of Kentucky all day. The Gators did not play well against UMASS in week one and the defense, despite allowing only a touchdown, were certainly not innocent. “Last week we were kinda flat and we played down to the opponent’s level. But, this week, I didn’t feel like that was a problem. When the team comes together for a common goal, like we did today, it makes everyone better.”
This is highlighted best by the interception of Marcus Maye, which all started from the disruption caused by the defensive tackle from Crescent City. Brantley’s grin told you everything you needed to know about the play.
“We get after the quarterback and they get picks. And when they play like that, it makes the quarterback not want to throw it and it gives us more time to get after them. This machine was well oiled today.”
When asked what the difference was between the first two weeks of the season, Brantley pointed out what many Gators suspected; they just did not show up against UMASS and the difference between the presentations was dramatic.
“A lot of guys weren’t hyped to play UMASS. But today was an SEC game and we were pumped. When all 11 guys do their job, nobody can mess with us.”
Knowing how good his teammates and seeing what they are able to do makes eating up double and triple teams easy for Brantley. His expectations as to how good they can be as a unit were not subtle.
“We’re the best in the country. It makes it easy to go out there and do your job because you know you’ve got the best players in the country behind you. If all of us do our jobs, we can’t be touched. We’re the best in the country.”
The improved play of the offense is refreshing, both literally and figuratively, for the defense. With nearly 40 minutes of possession the offense played a part in the successful defensive effort on Saturday, which is not something that could be said for the Gators in the recent past. Despite this, the defense knew that the offense was better than what they displayed against UMASS as well and they were not surprised by the outpouring of yards and points from the much-maligned unit.
“We didn’t panic. We know the mistakes that we made and we know that we were a few mistakes away from scoring a lot of points. I think they came out and showed that they can be a high-powered offense and the sky is the limit. We know if we clean up the mistakes, that’s how you go from 24-7 to 45-7.”
While an improvement was likely expected from Florida fans, perhaps the degree of dominance was surprising to some. Numerous pundits picked the Wildcats to end their record 29-game (now 30) losing streak on Saturday. The Gators took notice and were not surprised by what transpired.
“We expect it. It’s not surprising to us at all. Before the game we talked about wanting to hold them to zero points and that we know that we can do it if everyone does their job’s and we clean up the mistake that we made last week. We gotta stay focused and not get bored.”
While the improvement was a welcome one, the pretense of being flat for the first game of the season is one that might have rattled the faithful and rightfully so. While getting off the mark in SEC play was important, if you cannot get up for UMASS, one might suspect that the same could be true for next week, as the North Texas Mean Green are not exactly a marquee opponent. With the much-anticipated game against Tennessee on the horizon, reduced focus might be expected this week. Brantley brushed that aside, confident that the ship has been righted.
“Anytime we play an SEC game we know we gotta play well. We have the best conference in the nation. It’s a gauntlet. Anytime we can get a win in the SEC it’s a great feeling. [North Texas] is the next game so they are the most important game. That’s what the great teams do. They prepare every week. We’re going to watch the game [Tennessee] tonight. But we’ll play them when we play them and North Texas is next.”
Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain voiced the feelings of many Gator fans after the game. While it was exactly the kind of result and energy that fans expected after the lethargic opener, Coach McElwain was quick to not allow the touchy-feelies to get too deep into the fan base, or team for that matter. He pointed out that there were mistakes made and that they were unacceptable in a league that features teams as talented as the SEC does. While some of the fans felt that he was too hard on the team after the convincing win, it was not a sentiment shared by those on the field. Perspective is important and it certainly appears as though Caleb Brantley is well aware of this fact’
“That’s Coach Mac. He’s the kind of guy that is always striving to get better. He’s not satisfied with the win when we had a couple mistakes, it’s his job to push us and that’s what he’s doing. Win beat Kentucky. We didn’t win a championship. We call ourselves the best defense in the country and we prepared like it all week, but we can get better.”