Florida linebacker coach Randy Shannon discusses the challenges that await the Florida defense against Missouri

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- Missouri will provide a test for the Florida defense this week.Gators linebackers coach Randy Shannon details the challenges the home team faces this week.

The Florida defense has been the spark for this Gators team this season. Apart from one bad half against Tennessee, the defense has been very consistent for defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and the defensive staff. UF's opponents average 3.9 yards per play, 2.5 yards on the ground. But according to Florida linebacker coach Randy Shannon these numbers don't mean thing. 

"I wouldn't say we've played great. We've got to get better," he said. "We're not where we need to be as a defense... We can improve each week to keep moving up and we're winning games – that's great, but if we don't continue to get better on defense and win games, we're just going to be an OK defense."

Florida's next opponent will not allow the Gators to be just okay. Missouri comes to the game as one of the most productive passing offenses in the country. The visitors will have the ability to flip the field pretty quickly. 

"This week's opponent is Missouri," said the UF linebackers coach.  "Very explosive team offensively. They do a lot of great things. Remind me of some teams from Baylor when I was at TCU in the Big 12 Conference. They like to throw it around, but the biggest thing is they get their running game started, which Baylor is the same offense, it can cause you problems.

"Big test for us defensively," Shannon added. "We have to do a good job of not giving up big plays. They contribute about maybe nine, seven to nine, big plays a game, explosive plays of 15-16-20 yards or more, so you've got to control that on offense. Defensively, you have to control what they're doing offensively because those things will really hurt you on defense."

Mizzou's ability to make big plays and play at a quick place could be destructive to an over aggressive defense. According to Shannon, it is all about a balance.  

"We have to continue to mix up the calls in the secondary and up front as far as the defensive line. Change the technique or give them a technique change that confuses the offensive player and what they have to do. But it's going to come down to fundamentals this time. They're going about 80-90 plays a game in rotation," said Shannon.

With so many plays, the team's ability to stay fresh will be crucial. 

"We're going to have to rotate some guys on defense. We're going to have to rotate some guys up front," said Shannon. "We're going to have an opportunity to do it; when they substitute, we're going to substitute. That allows us to give us time to substitute."

The Partnership 

Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone are the best tacklers on the Gators defense, leading the way with 40 and 32 tackles respectively. 

“Both of them really intertwine with each other. J.D. sets the front, but also Alex echoes the front for him," said Shannon. "So J.D. makes the call and Alex echoes the call. Both of them really know what each other is doing all the time. And we always tell both of them guys, if you can really click with each other all the time, great things will happen.

"Those guys have done a tremendous job on and off the field helping the young guys that we have to really pick things up. I like seeing those guys fly around and have fun, and they’ve been doing a great job this season.”

Although Shannon did not answer whether or not he believes Davis is a first round draft pick or not, Shannon says the linebacker is playing at a very high level. 

"He's really, really feeling it now," he said. "The one thing that you can always see in the middle of a game or in practice, if something happens wrong, you can see it right on film how his head will go down or he'll grit his fists like that was me. I didn't fit the right way, I didn't see something the right way. So he sees right then and there after the play has happened. So he's able to fix things when you have guys that can do that right away."

Odds and Ends

On Daniel McMillian and his injuries

 “It is frustrating for me as a coach because you continually always want to give a player an opportunity show his talent, his craft. Daniel did a tremendous job for us in the offseason, then all of a sudden the injury bug hit him. But, it’s like anything else, he’s been positive, he’s bounced back, he’s doing a lot of great things in practice how. Two weeks in a row he’s put together practices. I’m predicting great things for him for this upcoming game.”

On Kylan Johnson 

"The one thing we said as a staff is at worst he can be a linebacker. He had big bones, really big bones. Very athletic back in Dallas. A big guy that can run, is athletic. We said, 'If he doesn't make it at safety, he can be a great linebacker.' And he's done a tremendous job. He plays both outside linebacker (positions). He started off at the weakside linebacker, now he's playing the strongside linebacker. So anytime a guy can have the knowledge to do what he does and contribute and play both positions, that adds depth to the group that you have."

On Caleb Brantley

“Well he’s a guy that’s always in the backfield, being very disruptive in the backfield. Doing a great job for us of really, really getting in the backfield and giving us some singles. You look last week he was really productive, didn’t have no tackles, but he was productive in the backfield. That makes negative plays for linebackers and things like they. They make things happen because he’s disruptive in the backfield.”

Depth at Linebacker

 “Well we feel like we got a good young group that came in, a young group as a whole defense. We feel real good about it. Also as a team we feel real good about our depth. When you look at this team we’re a young team but we’re an old team. We’re an old team as far as it’s a big separation between the gap. But like anything else the more those guys can play, the more reps they can get, they can get better real quick. The depth wise, you continue to build your depth. In recruiting we gotta take more guys at each position. You'll never be satisfied with just saying I'm happy with these four or five guys or these six guys. You always want to continue to bring in somebody that can contribute, somebody that can take somebody else's job because you can build depth that way. And also, if you know as a player, that somebody's behind me, I'm gonna get it wrong. That's just normal. And sometimes guys get in a rut when you don't have nobody behind that particular person. They take it easy. So continue to build that depth through recruiting, continue to stress to get the best guys on the football field at all times. Then you'll see guys really exceed to another level."

On Jabari Zuniga 

“You know what’s amazing, Jabari in high school – believe it or not – when I was at Arkansas, everybody on the staff remembered Jabari. He was about 5-11. Then all of a sudden that following year, his senior year – at May he was 5-11 – but his senior year, he sprouted up. It was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Who’s this guy?’ Like anything else, some people didn’t back go through the school because he’s 5-11 at the time. But he’s an explosive young man who’s quick and has good hands that’s learning the game. He’s doing tremendous job for us in the pass game and sacks and stuff, but his run game – if you watch him on tape – he’s very, very disruptive because he has very, very strong hands and a very good punch. He’s done a tremendous job for us and he’s continuing to get better. He’s gotten better this week. He’s learning it. And it’s like anything else. You don’t want anybody on the defensive front to play over maybe 35 plays at each game at the max. But he’s getting 25 plays and he’s getting those 25 great plays where he’s going to get better at the end of the day.”


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