Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Joey Ivie is a big part of record breaking Gators defense

There have been a lot of good defenses around these parts since the University of Florida began playing football in 1906. Some have been great, others maligned. None of them, however, have allowed what the 23rd ranked, 2016 version of the Gators (3-0, 1-0) defense did in the 32-0 victory over the North Texas Mean Green (1-2) on Saturday night. Senior Joey Ivie played no small part.

Seven sacks. 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Minus 13 rushing yards allowed. 53 total yards? Take your pick at which one of those is more impressive. Not to mention the fact that the Gators shutout their opponent for the first time in over two years. This defense is already starting to draw comparisons to some of the great units that have ever graced the Orange and Blue. Joey Ivie, the nose tackle from Dade City, is a key member of what many around the country believe to be the best defensive line in the nation. Performances that change the record book only add credence to the notion.

“It’s a blessing,” marveled the senior, clearly aware of what the performance meant. “We worked hard for it and I think we have the best defense in the country.”

This year’s defense looks a lot like last year’s defense, with a few notable exceptions. The performances are clearly on a higher, more ruthless level this year and Ivie believes that the formula for this elevation is simple.

“We took an approach where we wanted to be penalty-free and fundamentally sound. We had a great week of practice on defense. We just want to keep pressing forward to continue to be that great, dominant defense that we are striving to be.”

While the former point left a little to be desired, the faithful will likely not remember most of the 11 penalties that the Gators surrendered, other than one. The ejection of Martez Ivey, one play after what can only be described as a cheap shot on quarterback Luke Del Rio, was the cause of much confusion, as the recently instituted targeting punishment blurred into reality for many of us. Fortunately, Martez will be available for all four quarters next Saturday. The same cannot be said for Del Rio, who surprisingly walked off of the field after his nauseating knee buckle at the hands of Mean Green defender that could have hit him differently had he wanted to. The senior defensive lineman felt for his teammate deeply.

“It’s hard because we all put in this work together, we grind together. I’ve never been on a team that is this close. We’re a big family. The entire defense cringed because we’re a family and he’s a part of our family.”

Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain suggested that the ejection was probably a makeup call for his outburst at the sight of Del Rio’s assault and took responsibility. While Gators fans certainly have not seen anything like that from their second-year coach, what Ivie took away from it is something that the team has known for a long time.

“We have his back no matter what,” said Ivie of McElwain, who had to be held back. “He’s a coach that cares a lot about us and we all care about each other. The goals that we have are goals that we set as a team and no matter what happens, we have his back.”

With North Texas in the books, the Gators look to extend another record. This record evokes a lot of emotion from a lot of people and if the offseason back-and-forth is any indication, this is a game that both Florida and #15 Tennessee (3-0) have been looking forward to all offseason. With the Gators looking to make it 12-in-a-row against the Vols, Ivie does not expect anything out of the ordinary.

“It’s a very loud stadium,” said Ivie of Neyland Stadium, sight of next week’s divisional showdown. “It’s a lot like The Swamp, so it’s not anything that we haven’t seen. There’s a lot of experience on the defense and there’s a lot of experience on the offense. If we approach practice the right way and approach the game the right way I think things will play out well.”

Graduate-transfer quarterback Austin Appleby will likely be making his first career start for the Gators in relief of Del Rio. While certainly there are more pleasant confines than the famous, old stadium that holds nearly 105,000 patrons, Ivie spoke very highly of the former Purdue player.

“Austin is a natural leader. He and Luke were battling for the starting spot. He’s a guy you can count on,” said the senior, whose demeanor indicated it was not just postgame fluff. “Obviously you’re going to be a little anxious, but after the first couple of snaps you start to get used to it.”

The rivalry with Tennessee, from a neutral perspective, has seen better days. The Gators have won in a variety of ways since the streak began just a few games into the Urban Meyer era. From the heart break of the past two years, to the outright embarrassment of many of the fixtures, Tennessee has found a way to come out on the bottom 11 straight years. With a defense this good and with the offensive line of Tennessee highly suspect, conventional wisdom would indicate that Appleby might not have to play all that well for the Gators to make it 12. A simple, mistake-limited performance, much like we saw from then true freshman Treon Harris in Knoxville two years ago, will likely be enough for another payoff video from BigVolDaddy on YouTube. Joey Ivie is not concerned in the least.

“Austin is a good quarterback. I think if we can stay coachable I think that things are going to be ok.”

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