"He just made himself an All-American," Zook said.
With two games remaining on the Gators' schedule, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff isn't guaranteed the honor. But he certainly has made his case.
Ratliff returned his eighth interception of the season for a 52-yard touchdown to seal Florida's win against Vanderbilt on Saturday. He also sealed the school record for the most interceptions in a season – seven of which came in the past four games.
"When I coached the secondary, I used to always say if a guy gets nine interceptions, you're going to be an All-American," said Zook, who pointed out bringing the pick back for a touchdown may help his case.
More importantly than the post-season honors, though, has been the game-changing effect of the Gators' interceptions. It hasn't just been Ratliff, either.
Actually, until the final minute of the game, it wasn't Ratliff at all. Before the senior's pick, which gave Florida a 35-17 win, the secondary snagged three other momentum-grabbers.
Safety Daryl Dixon had two interceptions and safety Corey Bailey had another.
"Once a guy gets that feeling, it's almost like it's a magnet," Zook said. "We're playing as a team defense. We're forcing the issue. They're doing a great job of doing what we expect."
But as Bailey pointed out after the game, Florida's secondary isn't the only unit deserving of credit. Because of linebacker Channing Crowder's ability to clog up the middle, along with defensive end Bobby McCray's continued pressure, the opposing quarterbacks have been forced into throwing ill-advised passes.
"It's fun," Bailey said, "but it's not just us."
However, defensive coordinator Charlie Strong preaches to his players the importance of such plays. So while Crowder and McCray may be complimenting the ability to snag interceptions, that's actually the goal
"It makes us real confident knowing if we stop the run, they'll stop the pass," said Crowder, who had a team-leading 13 tackles. "We need those turnovers. Coach always says turnovers and third downs are the biggest part of defense."
Take a look at the result of each pick, and you'll realize why the emphasis is important. In an 18-point margin of victory, the Gators acquired 14 points through interceptions. Dixon's second one turned into a Ciatrick Fason's 3-yard touchdown run.
Perhaps just as significant as Ratliff's contributions, Florida also broke another school record Saturday. In records dating back to 1952, the Gators surpassed the single-season mark for most interceptions returned for touchdowns with four.
So not only have the turnovers changed the pace of the game. They've had an immediate impact on the score, as well.
"When you play at defensive back, you want to get an interceptions or you want to get the big hit that knocks the ball loose," Bailey said. "We're all getting our share. When you can spread out that success, that's when you get things done."