VETTEL: Defense Readies for Bigger Challenge

The numbers the Gator defense has put up through the first two games are awfully impressive. Seven points total, 70 yards a game on the ground and 154 through the air. Opposing teams are averaging less than three yards a carry and completing less than 50 percent of their passes.

The Gator defense allowed a touchdown on the third play of the season after a Gator turnover followed by a busted assignment gave Southern Miss first ands goal. Florida has not allowed a point since.

But the truth of the matter is both Southern Miss and UCF are teams with major weaknesses. Southern lacked speed at the skill positions and had an inexperienced quarterback, although they did have an excellent offensive line and tight end. UCF had an excellent quarterback and running back, but the Golden Knights couldn't block middle school kids off the lunch line.

Saturday, that changes. Tennessee will provide a very strong test for the Gator defense. The Vols present a solid offensive line that is superb on the left side (LT Aaron Sears, LG David Ligon). In Eric Ainge they have a capable quarterback with the potential to be much more than that. And Florida's biggest concern might be two big receivers in Bobby Meachem and Jayson Swain who have combined for 22 receptions for over four hundred yards and six touchdowns in the first two games.

Mattison Likes What He's Seen

Florida defensive line coach and co-coordinator Greg Mattison talks about the defense and the boys from Rocky Top.

LV: Greg, 117 straight minutes without giving up a point, how do you feel about the way the defense is playing?

GM: Well, I think the kids really stepped it up in the last ballgame. A lot of improvement should be made between your first game and your second game. I think they feel and we do too that you're going to be as good as your expectations. We have high expectations for this defense. In the first game that wasn't where we were at and we had to step it up. We've got a long way to go yet. Our goals are pretty high and the kids' goals are pretty high as well. They know what the standard is and they're working very hard to get there.

LV: Up front things are a lot different when number 44 (Marcus Thomas) is out there, aren't they?

GM: The thing we've got now and I always want this is the ability to rotate people. That first ballgame Javier (Estopinan) and Clint (McMillan) had to play a lot. Now we're adding to the strength of our defense so we can have fresh guys out there.

LV: The biggest question coming into the season was about the secondary. Do you like the way those questions are being answered so far?

GM: Definitely! I think our secondary is doing a really good job and they continue to get better. That's another area where we're getting more depth as we go along. Markihe Anderson has really stepped it up and he shows us that we have another corner we can put in the mix.

LV: What impresses you most about Tennessee?

GM: They're a really big, talented football team. They are a typical SEC contender. The biggest difference in them this year is that Ainge is playing so well. He's not making mistakes. The offensive line looks to me that they're coming off the ball better than they have and they always have a good running game. (Aaron) Sears is an outstanding offensive lineman. He's played a long time and in the SEC if you play a long time you're either a really good football player or you're going to get exposed. He's a very good football player. It seems like they really feel like they are into what they are doing. It's going to be a real challenge.

LV: Bobby Meachem has had two straight 100-yard games. How good is he and what kind of problems does he present?

GM: He's a really big (6'3" 220), strong, fast receiver. If you don't tackle him, he'll make you pay. There were a couple of plays in the Cal game where they had him covered, the guy went to tackle him and he (Meachem) just threw him off and made a big play. Once he gets loose he's very hard to catch. This is a game that will test our corners. They'll be tested in man coverage and they'll be tested on how they tackle. But our whole defense will be tested on how they swarm to the football. One guy isn't responsible for getting a guy down the whole defense is. We've preached that since we got here and this will be one of those tests where if we don't swarm to the football they'll really make us pay for it.

Part of Tennessee's huge offensive game against California came on three plays like Coach Mattison described, passes in front of a freshman corner (who was playing with a broken thumb) who couldn't make the tackle. Florida can't allow more than one big play in this one if it hopes to hold the Vols offense in check. The play of the corners will be a huge factor in that regard, as will the amount of pressure Florida's front four puts on Ainge. If the Gators let him camp out in the pocket like he did two years ago, that blasted song will be playing all night long.

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