Linebackers understand they need the linemen to take on blocks in order to clean up on tackles. Secondary rely on both linemen and linebackers to supply heat up front to make plays in the passing game. Sophomore safety Ahmad Black may have had the biggest game of all the Florida Gators against Hawai'i on Saturday, but amidst the hoopla following him after the game in the media room, he was humble and just happy for the big win.
Not able to make an impact at cornerback in 2007 as a true freshman, Black was moved to safety in spring practice where he was immediately making plays against an offense that broke records last season. It was especially significant for the defense when projected starting safety Dorian Munroe went down for the season with a torn ACL over the summer. Back at the position he played forever before arriving at Florida, the Gators may have found a nice surprise, especially if Black continues his play from Saturday.
"Playing safety is what I did growing up," Black commented after being asked about the position change this year. "I played cornerback last year, so moving back wasn't really like changing positions. With (Dorian Munroe out), I knew I had to step up. He is a great player. I knew I had to step in and couldn't be the weak link."
All Black did on Saturday was lead the entire defense with five tackles and intercept two passes. One of those passes went for an 80 yard touchdown. All Black did after the game was smile about the quick start for his season and spread the love for his teammates...the sign of a great leader.
"I had a pretty big day but overall the defense had a great day," the modest Black said. "The defense ran to the ball...the defensive line played excellent...the linebackers flowed to the ball. The corners rerouted receivers and did everything they were supposed to do. They did great on the outside..all in all we did good."
Even on his big plays, Black can't help but point out the help he got from his defensive teammates.
"My job is to intercept the ball," he said. "I had a great rush from the defensive line...the linebackers did pretty good...I had a cornerback reroute the wide receiver...that is why he threw it right to me. All in all the defense played pretty good."
That first interception was an ice breaker of sorts. The score was tied at zero at the time and the Gator defense was bending to an offense that was driving down the field. On a play starting at the 27 yard line, the Hawaii quarterback threw a deep pass over the middle of the field that would land in the arms of Black about three yards deep in the end zone. All Black could think about was not missing an opportunity to help the team.
"For a minute, there was a split in our coverage, but I saw (the quarterback) over threw him or (the receiver) got alligator arms and didn't want to catch it," Black said. "When I saw the ball coming, my eyes got big. I wanted to make sure I caught it."
The secondary play was noticeably better in game one from last season. It may have to do with the members of the secondary becoming a unit that knows what the other parts are doing and enjoys being a part of each other's company. Part of the camaraderie in the secondary is the special relationship developing between the two starting safeties. Major Wright is the other starting safety who was once a big time high school rival of Black. Black and Wright have become very close since matriculating at Florida and now that relationship is turning into production on the field. The two combined for three interceptions on Saturday, only two off of the five that the safety position amassed in the entire 2007 season for the Gator defense. Oh by the way, they also each scored touchdowns on interceptions.
"It is good chemistry back there, we like playing with each other," Black said of he and Wright. "When I got my interception the first time...then he got his he told me 'oh you thought you were going to get one without me?' We like playing with each other and connect a little bit."
Black thinks that the chemistry is going to turn into big things and that they are close to making it very special.
"We are almost there, give us a couple of more weeks, but we are almost there," Black said.
The game was just a sign of the times for this young but talented defense according to Black. It is a group that pays attention to what a veteran coaching staff is telling them.
"We have great coaches and everyone can take coaching day in and day out in practice," Black said about his teammates. "I think all of that is paying off...All spring and fall camp we were trying to get better. Everyone s saying we were a weak link last year and we knew we had to be better than last year. All we did was work hard and try to get to the ball."
It is a Gator team that is loaded with offensive play makers that on Saturday had touchdowns of 33, 48 and 62 yards. However, the defense scored twice and amassed six turnovers on the day. Black loves the thought of the defense in a race with the offense to see who can make the most big plays.
"We have big play makers on offense and I think we have some on defense as well," Black said. "It is dangerous, I would love to see the offense getting big plays and the defense getting big plays. We are going to hurt some people."
Now the attention turns to a rivalry with Miami and the Gators will host the Hurricanes in prime time in a week in the nation's loudest stadium. Black is looking forward to the big game.
"Hopefully they come in here ready to play and we will be ready to play," Black said of the big confrontation next week. "The fans will be ready to see it and the whole world. If we go out there and play great offense and defense like we did today, we should be fine."
If Ahmad Black continues his stellar play from game one, a position that was considered a weakness coming into the season may turn out to be a huge team strength.
Black with Big Game
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