"On defense we were all waiting for that," coach Urban Meyer said. "The Gator Nation has been waiting for that, the head coach has been waiting for that. That was excellent defense to hold a very talented group to a very limited number of yards and plays."
While the offense has been stellar all season, it will take similar performances by the Gator defense to stay in contention for the SEC East. There was a sense throughout the team and coaches that they need to put it all on the line from here on out if they want to have a chance. For the first time in Meyer's tenure, the team sported an all-blue uniform as a way to change things up and excite the players.
"This is it, there is no tomorrow," Meyer said. "We tried to do everything possible to get this team motivated. The seniors, a couple of them, came in and said something to me and I said ‘no chance' and then we came in and put them in blue pants. I'll set my hair on fire if it gets them to play like that."
Another way the coaching staff spurred the team's performance was by letting the defense make a statement early on.
"Our coaches wanted to set an example so we deferred and put our defense on the field," Meyer said. "That's risky because if they go down and score and they take all that energy out of the locker room, but they went three and out and our offense went out and got the job done."
Last year, it was not uncommon for the Gators to defer because they knew they could rely upon a veteran-laden defense to come up with a stop. But this was the first time this year that they chose to give up possession. The Gators defense and special teams did a great job of providing the offense with favorable field position.
The defense was keyed by an unlikely player, true freshman Mike Pouncey. Injuries to the interior of the defensive line led to the Pouncey's move from offensive line to defensive tackle earlier this week and he met the opportunity with success. The coaches lauded Pouncey for his efforts, not only in stopping the run but energizing the entire defense.
"We didn't have a sack the entire game because we played against the run," Meyer said. "Mike Pouncey certainly took care of that – true freshman, back up center who at Tuesday's practice moved to a starting inside player. That's just courage. That tells you a lot about the kind of people the Pounceys are, specifically Michael, how unselfish he is to go over there and play in the four, he brings energy to our defense."
The Commodores were held to 93 yards rushing on less than three yards a carry. The pass defense was also tremendous, forcing two interceptions and holding Earl Bennett, arguably the best receiver in the conference, to a mere 27 yards on four touches. In the junior's previous two games against the Gators, he compiled 232 yards and three touchdowns. Three quarterbacks took snaps for Vanderbilt but none were able to consistently move the ball down field.
With a successful onside kick, Bennett and the rest of the Commodores did their best to overcome the halftime deficit but ultimately the defense was able to hold them.
"We came back in the second half with every intention of getting back into the game," Bennett said. Unfortunately we weren't able to, they're a good team."
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Blake Bonsack
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