Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports

Lots of learning up front on defense

The Florida Gators won a tough 13-6 game against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday and what was a very experienced defensive line coming into the season saw times when all four starters were out. A lot of young guys got some time on the field that will hopefully play some dividends down the road.

Entering the contest on Saturday Florida was without starting defensive tackle Joey Ivie and starting defensive end Jordan Sherit. For some undisclosed reason, starting defensive end Bryan Cox didn’t start and played very sparingly in the game as well. When Caleb Brantley hurt his wrist early in the second half, all four starters were out of the game for extended periods of time.

A usually stout run defense was gashed several times by the Commodores, who finished with 147 yards and 4.0 yards per carry average, but given all of the newness up front, maybe that was to be expected.

“Obviously Sherit was unable to go and has been kinda banged up and just the way it was in pre-game, that was a game decision,” McElwain said. “I will never put anybody out there that can't go. And in this case, Jordan was unable to do that. Obviously with Joey down, we had a bunch of new guys in there.

Florida saw extended action from backups but regulars in CeCe Jefferson, Khairi Clark, Jabari Zuniga, Keivonnis Davis, and Taven Bryan. Guys with much less playing experience like Luke Ancrum, Antonneous Clayton, and Jachai Polite also saw the field in big situations.  

It was a tough time up front for these guys, but McElwain believes they have a lot to learn from it.

“I think this was a great game for them,” he said of all the young guys playing up front. “I’m not saying they played particularly well, but they’re gonna have a great opportunity to see themselves on film and learn how to control blockers.

It didn’t show up in the stat sheet, but sophomore defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson was a force. Playing more from an end position that defensive tackle as he has been playing, Jefferson finished with four tackles and really harassed Commodore quarterbacks when things got tough in the second half.

"You know, CeCe (Carl) is great,” McElwain said. “He's fun. The guy, you wish you had more of those. I wish we had more Carls because Carl enjoys it. He loves being a Gator and he's proud to be a Gator and he plays with such energy and has so much fun doing it and he's like that at practice. We've got a lot of guys who can take a lesson or two from Carl."


BOTTOM LINE: Coming into the season I thought the depth up front was great and there would never be an issue. The way that Chris Rumph plays so many linemen, it was a good thing that a lot of these young players had some experience. It appears that Cox being out was an off-the-field issue, but that has still not been determined. Brantley was in a cast, after the injury, but made it back out on the field. Sherit should probably be able to play next week.

These guys need to get healthy and there is no choice, some young guys are going to have to step up. Seeing Clayton on the field was a nice sight and hopefully he can now push for more playing time. It is still a talented group, but you just wish you had everyone available.



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