#22 Florida Gators (2-0) vs. North Texas Mean Green (1-1)
Saturday September 17, 2016; 7:30 P.M.
Gainesville, Florida; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Is this defense as good as a year ago?
The Florida Gator defense has given up two total scores in two outings so far this season and is currently second in the nation giving up just 168 yards per game on the year. The defense last year was one of the best in the country and with the loss of six players to the NFL the expectation should have been to take at least a small step back. But did that happen.
The Gators finished eighth in the country a year ago allowing 310 yards per game in their 14 games during the season. Certainly the entirety of the schedule had better teams than Kentucky and UMass among them and the offense certainly didn’t help the defense a year ago, but this Florida defense has really given up two scoring drives in two games and in both cases a lot of the players on the field weren’t starters.
Senior Bryan Cox believes this defense can be every bit as good and are trying to be better.
“All the media is making it out to be a, ‘oh we’re not gonna be as good because we don’t have this, this and that,’ but I mean, I think we’re gonna be even better so…,” Cox told the Florida media this week. “You’re always trying to be a top-notch defense no matter what. No matter who you’re losing or who will be back, we’re just trying to be the best.”
“I think we’ve had two really good showings, especially last week. And we’re just trying to build on that this week.”
It is this man’s opinion that one place where this Gator group is playing better is at linebacker. Antonio Morrison certainly did some big things for Florida last year, but the return of Alex Anzalone and the consistent play of Jarrad Davis have been big so far.
“I can’t even explain it,” Cox said when asked what it was like having Anzalone back from the injury that kept him out most of last year. “Him and Jarrad Davis, you gotta pick your poison with those two, so you gotta run at one of them.”
The two linebackers lead Florida in tackles, both with 12 each in the two games. Their play has been bolstered by a defensive front full of players that aren’t in it for the stats, but to play the game the way it is taught. The depth up front is something any program would love and the selfless play of the unit says a lot about the how they feel about doing it for the team.
But, when it is time to make a play, they can do that as well.
“I just feel like we’re versatile,” Cox said. “We’re a versatile unit. You know, any given play any given guy can get to the quarterback. I think that’s good for us and it’ll work for us down the road.”
Up front, Cox has drawn praise, Jordan Sherit, Caleb Brantley, CeCe Jefferson, Khairi Clark, and the list goes on. There are a bunch of players playing well. The ability to rest continues to pay dividends as each game goes on.
"That helps a lot, having a bunch of different guys that can go in there,” Cox said. “I can go in there or whatever, and then if I'm tired or whatever, I need a break, somebody else can go in there and play the position at the same level. So it's good for us."
The secondary isn’t quite as deep. But, you will be hard pressed to come up with a starting unit anywhere in the country that can run with this Florida secondary. We saw a few issues in game one when Jalen Tabor was out and Duke Dawson got hurt in the first quarter, but now that they are back, the Kentucky Wildcats found out just how tough they are.
Florida allowed three completed passes against the Wildcats, they also intercepted three passes. That is the kind of play that was expected from the talented secondary. It is the kind of play that can make this defense as good, if not better than a year ago.
"I think, honestly, it's pretty close, you know,” Cox said comparing the two defenses. “It's about the same. If not, we might be even more versatile, especially with getting Anzalone back. We've got a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things."
The North Texas offense comes with a little firepower, but they haven’t seen a defense quite like this one. The Gators in my opinion are already playing at another level and will continue to get better as the staff continues to find younger guys that can do different things for them.
The Mean Green offense is ranked 61st in the country with a solid 422 yards offense per game. They have a mobile quarterback which gave Florida fits a year ago. It won’t matter.
The North Texas defense is ranked 89th in the country and giving up 401 yards per game in the first two games with 215 yards per game coming on the ground. Florida’s stable of running backs out to be licking their chops at this.
Florida does need the kicking game to get back on track in terms of made field goals and staying away from penalties.
While I am not predicting quite the offensive show as last week against Kentucky, I believe the defense will step up even more and the offense will look consistent and make Gator fans happy again.
SCORE PREDICTION: Florida 45 North Texas 0
Here’s a look at our football coverage for the week…