Defense with New Challenges

The Florida Gators are set to kickoff the 2008 college football season this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. versus Hawaii. While it's Florida's offense that has most people talking I believe the defense has a chance to match Urban Meyer's unit every step of the way from a production standpoint.

Five of the team's top six tacklers return for defensive coordinator Charlie Strong with Brandon Spikes (131), Dustin Doe (85), Major Wright (67), Jermaine Cunningham (64) and Joe Haden (63). If the past couple of weeks are any indication the Gators' secondary should be much improved. Once you add in players like Omar Hunter, Troy Epps, Matt Patchan and Carlos Dunlap on the defensive line, Strong's unit has a chance to be scary good. One thing the Gators have going for them is the schedule and signal callers they will face throughout the season.

August 30th:
The Gators open with the Hawaii Warriors and junior college transfer Brent Rausch. Rausch stands 6-4, 190-pounds. Throw in the fact that the game is a 12:30 kick and Hawaii may not know how to deal with the humidity of The Swamp. Furthermore, Hawaii must replace both starting guards. They lose first team all-American left guard Hercules Satele and right guard Larry Sauafea.

September 6th:
The Gators once again find themselves in the confines of The Swamp this time to take on a team they haven't beaten since 1985, the Miami Hurricanes. This has been one of the most talked about games in recent memory (that and Georgia). The Hurricanes will open the season with true freshman Jacory Harris as projected starter Robert Marve will sit due to a one-game suspension. Harris is 6-4, 180-pounds and will be making his first college start on August 28 against Charleston Southern. Regardless of who starts in The Swamp, someone will be making either their first or second start and that's not a good situation for the Hurricanes. Miami will need to find a way to replace right guard Derrick Morse, left guard Andrew Bain and center John Rochford. Miami has six offensive linemen with starting experience, which bolds well and overall the unit is expected to be an improvement over last year's group.

September 20th:
The Gators leave The Swamp for the first road game of the year, a game in recent years which has set the table for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division Champion. A game against the Tennessee Volunteers and junior signal caller Jonathan Crompton. Crompton is much bigger than what the Gators will have faced at this point in the season at 6-4, 220-pounds but not nearly as big as what they face everyday in practice going against Tim Tebow 6-4, 236-pounds. Crompton will be making his first start against the Gators in what will be one of his biggest tests of the season. The offensive line allowed only four sacks in 2007, which was a NCAA record. This could be the league's top overall unit and a great test for the Gators defensive front.

September 27th:
The Gators will return home to face the Ole Miss Rebels and quarterback Jevan Snead, a name familiar to all Gator fans. Snead is 6-3, 215-pounds and like the Hawaii and Miami quarterbacks will be making his first career start in The Swamp. The Rebels will be replacing three offensive line starters as well. Four games (only one road game) and the Florida defense will get a chance to face four quarterbacks that will be first year starters and two of which (Rausch and Marve) will be making their first ever start at this level.

October 4th:
The Gators hit the road for their second game away from The Swamp to take on first year head coach Bobby Petrino that has installed a new offensive system. Unlike the Gators' first four opponents Arkansas will go into the game with a quarterback in Casey Dick that has some starting experience. Dick is a senior that stands 6-2, 215-pounds. Dick threw for just less than 1,700 yards last season completing 57.3 percent of his passes. The offensive line will return seven of its top ten players but switches from a run blocking scheme to a pass blocking scheme, something that is more difficult than it seems.

October 11th:
The LSU Tigers pay a visit to The Swamp and bring with them a lot of question marks at the quarterback position, a position in which head coach Les Miles thought would be team strength with Ryan Perrilloux but his dismissal from the team brings question marks. At 6-2, 190-pounds, redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee and Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch 6-3, 214-pounds will need to grow up in a hurry. The offensive line looks to start two seniors, two juniors and one sophomore and should be a solid unit. LSU will be the fourth home game of the season for the Gators and it will be the fourth starting quarterback making his first ever career start in The Swamp.

October 25th:
The Kentucky Wildcats bring with them a vote of confidence that they can play with the big boys in the Southeastern Conference but will not bring with them all-American quarterback Andre Woodson. At 6-4, 200-pounds Curtis Pulley should get the start if thing go according to plan. Pulley did play against the Gators in 2005 throwing for 208 yards but things have changed since 2005 and this is a tall task for the junior quarterback. They bring back three starters on the offensive line and should be much more experienced than last year.

November 1st:
The much anticipated showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs is once again set for Jacksonville and a potential one versus two match-up could take place if the Bulldogs hold up their end of the bargain. Matthew Stafford played against the Gators last season and is one of only three quarterbacks that can make that claim in 2008. At 6-3, 237-pounds Stafford can make all the throws that has National Football League scouts drooling heading into the season. It will be interesting to see how the sophomore handles all the hype. The offensive line is expected to be good but has only one upperclassmen in the two deep and took a serious blow with the injury to left offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant.

November 8th:
The Gators travel to face the Vanderbilt Commodores a team that traditionally has given the Gators some tough games, not last year as the Gators won in a blowout 49-22. The Commodores have had well over 20 years of consecutive losing seasons and this year looks to be no different. Junior Mackenzi Adams, 6-2, 212-pounds, and 6-1, 210-pound senior Chris Nickson should get the majority of the snaps heading into this game. To make matters worse the offensive line will feature five new starters as Vanderbilt has the least experienced offensive line in the nation with only three career starts amongst them.

November 15th:
The Gators return home for the first time since the Kentucky game to face the Ole Ball Coach and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Last season the Gamecocks averaged 258 passing yards per game which was the highest total since 1995 but with sophomore Chris Smelly 6-2, 216-pounds and junior Tommy Beecher 6-2, 227-pounds combining for eight interceptions in the spring game the South Carolina fans are hoping that Stephen Garcia can somehow find his way back on the field for head coach Steve Spurrier. The Gators laid it on pretty thick last year as they had one of the best overall performances of the season against South Carolina with a 51-31 performance. Eight of the top ten are back on the offensive line and should have one of the best units in the Southeastern Conference.

November 22nd:
The Gators will have tune up game in every sense of the word as the play host to The Citadel.

November 29th:
The season finale for Urban Meyer's team as they travel to take on the Florida State Seminoles and look to make if five in a row over Bobby Bowden's club. Who knows if this will be coach Bowden's last year or not but if so, I am sure he will want to go out a winner against the Gators at home. Drew Weatherford looks to once again be the man but some are calling for a new era in Tallahassee and want to see true freshman E.J. Manuel get a look. That is a lot to ask of a first year player so look for Weatherford to be the man. Last year in Gainesville, Florida State was held out of the end zone but managed 12 points on four field goals as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 45-12 loss. It's not as bad as Vanderbilt but very close as the Seminoles have only three players return on the offensive line with starting experience a total of 24 starts which is fifth worst in the NCAA.

Five of the first seven games of the 2008 season for the Florida Gators are at home and of those seven teams, six quarterbacks will be making their first ever start against the Gators and five of them are going to be in The Swamp. The schedule sets up perfectly in more ways than one but I believe the Gators defense is in for a very big year.

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