Mid-Season Report Card - Rushing Defense

We continue our evaluation of the Florida Gator football team at mid-season with a trip over to the other side of the ball. Expectations for the Gator defense this season were significantly lower than those for the offense. After all, Florida had to replace 11 of the top 13 players off the 2006 unit.

At the mid-season point the Gators are allowing 21 points a game. Florida opponents have gained 94 yards a game on the ground and 230 through the air. However the last five Florida opponents have each scored at least 20 points.

Rushing Defense (B -)

The positives -----
The Gators opened the season determined that its rebuilt defense would not be dominated on the ground. Undersized, competitive and disciplined veterans Clint McMillan and Javier Estopinan maintained gap control and took cut back lanes away from opposing runners. Jermaine Cunningham, another undersized man up front has held up better than expected against the run. Sophomore linebackers Brandon Spikes (57) and Dustin Doe (41) are Florida's top two tacklers and have effectively replaced departed veterans Brandon Siler and Earl Everett. And freshman defensive backs Joe Haden and Major Wright are emerging as stars in the back row and have seen to it that long runs do not take place.

The negatives ----- After outstanding success in the first four games (54.5 yards/g, 2 TD) things have slipped the last two weeks. The Gators did hold Auburn to just under 100 yards (99), but the Tigers ran for two scores, matching the total for the first four outings. However it was against LSU that things completely changed. The Tigers rambled for 247 yards and three TD in Baton Rouge and ran for crucial fourth down yardage five straight times.

Florida has not substituted much up front and you have to believe that fatigue was a factor in the defense being unable to stop either Auburn or LSU on the game-deciding drives in the fourth quarter.

Looking ahead ----- The key for the Gators run defense in the second half has to be at defensive tackle. You have to admire the effort put forward by McMillan and Estopinan, but those guys need some rest and reinforcements. Between Brandon Antwine, Torrey Davis, Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh two guys have to emerge as reliable, consistent players in the final six games. Florida also could use better production from the strong side linebacker spot.

The Gator run defense overall has performed reasonably well but the last two games could be the sign of a disturbing trend. Since the unit is so young there is every reason to expect improvement in the second half of the season, and if more guys emerge in the front seven the improvement could be dramatic.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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