Defense Needs a Valiant Effort

The Florida defense has their work cut out for them this week. The Gators come into the game against Georgia with the SEC's league best pass efficiency defense and the third best rushing defense in the conference, the Gators will get their stiffest test Saturday. Gator Defensive Line Coach Dan McCarney knows they have their hands full.

Georgia comes into the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with the 2nd leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference in sophomore Knowshon Moreno, the 2nd leading passer in the SEC in junior Matthew Stafford, and the SEC's leading receiver in true freshman A.J. Green. With quality players all over the field, McCarney and crew are going to have to defend the entire field on Saturday.

"Most teams are really good at one thing and solid at the other," McCarney said earlier in the week. "With a guy like Stafford throwing the ball and with those receivers, a back like that, and a big strong, physical offensive line up front, they are super at both."

The guy on Georgia's offense getting most of the play this week is running back Knowshon Moreno. Moreno has galvanized the Georgia team and not only acts as the team's leading rusher but also their best cheerleader. He knows how to pump up the crowd and isn't afraid of doing it at any time.

"The passion the enthusiasm, the love for the game, he's special," McCarney said of the star running back who leads the SEC with 12 rushing touchdowns. "You go up there and you see it takes about four hours (of game film) to find one guy bringing him down. He's just a sensational player, one of the very best in all of college football."

Moreno has a unique style of running that hasn't been seen in the SEC in many years. He is a dynamic player with size, speed, and power and a unique gift of breaking tackles or making guys miss altogether.

"It isn't yards as much as big runs and yards after contact," McCarney said of the super sophomore. "You have three guys in position to make a tackle and he makes them miss or breaks tackles and all of a sudden he is down in the red zone. He has had a lot of big runs and is really hard to stop.

"He's as good as I have ever coached against or had on my team. His consistency, productivity, he is just so physical and tough. He is great for college football…when you don't have to try and tackle him like we do this week. He plays the game the way any coach would want a young man to play the game."

The real problem for the Gator defense this week is that it isn't all about the running game and Moreno. With Stafford and Green and senior wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, the Bulldogs also bring a terrific passing game to the mix.

"There is great balance and they execute it," McCarney said. "You may stop them a couple of plays and then all of a sudden that same play they will execute it. They did the same thing to LSU the other night, it was 24-17 and then all of a sudden it looks like it is going to be a blowout."

The leader of the offense is big time pro prospect Matthew Stafford. The junior comes into the game playing much better than he did a year ago when he helped lead the Bulldogs over the Gators. McCarney has the utmost respect for Stafford.

"Strong, fast, gun, high draft pick," McCarney described Stafford. "I have never coached in the NFL but he looks like a first rounder to me. He is a really a great football player. He's like our guy, you get heat and pressure and he will still throw a rope, he'll put it on the spot. Those are two of the best in college football matched up in the same stadium."

If there is a place for the Gators to attack this offense it is up front. After a few injuries to starters in the early part of the season, the Bulldogs don't have a single upper classmen on the two-deep of the offensive line and start three freshmen. Still, they have played very well as of late and McCarney doesn't see them as a weakness at all.

"I am really impressed with them," McCarney said of the Georgia offensive line. "It is one of the youngest I have ever coached against. I don't see a whole lot of drop off from earlier in the season. Strong, physical, athletic…they pull centers, they pull guards, and they pull tackles. They are athletic and one of the best offensive lines we have seen this year on tape."

With all the above, there should be no lack of motivation for the defense this week. Regardless, McCarney believes that Head Coach Urban Meyer has the full attention of this football team and will have them at their best on Saturday at 3:30 for kickoff.

"If you have a great relationship with everyone around you, you can drive it when you have to you can bring out the best when you have to if they have faith and trust in you," McCarney said. "That is what I see from these players and coaches. They have faith in (Coach Meyer), they follow his lead and I don't think we will have any problem getting them to go this week."

They certainly did what they needed to do against Kentucky last Saturday. The Gators walloped the SEC foe by a 63-5 score and McCarney believes his troops are improving every week. He thinks his defensive front has learned a lot about playing with a relentless effort to the ball.

"When you hold an SEC opponent out of the end zone all day, I know they have a couple of injuries, but there do so many good things," he intimated about playing well against Kentucky. "We just got through spending an hour and a half on the game and we can definitely get better. I think we are seeing that (being more relentless), we better be relentless this week. If we aren't relentless we have no chance this week. They are starting to figure it out."

One of the more relentless players up front for McCarney is true freshman defensive tackle Matt Patchan. Patchan started in his first game against Kentucky and is one of those guys that has his motor running all the time. He is a little light right now in just his freshman season, but McCarney has seen some great things from him and knows when he gets to an ideal playing weight, he can be special.

"He's getting better, he didn't have a super game, but he is getting better," McCarney said of Patchan against the Wildcats. "It is so easy to forget that he's a true freshman playing in the trenches in the SEC. He still did a lot of good things. We will continue to keep rolling him and (Terron) Sanders in there, both he did a lot of good things Saturday and contributed to our win. He just has a phenomenal future and will get better and better. Next year at this time he will probably be 287 instead of 267 and he has that big frame and can put on a lot of good weight in the next twelve months."

Another bonus as of recent times has been the return and play of nose guard Brandon Antwine. Antwine was thought to maybe have his carer ended by a back injury he suffered last season. Just short of a miracle, his return this year has been quite unexpected and McCarney said he is equally surprised at how well he has played in his return.

"I was amazed but he practiced that way last week and had a great week of practice," McCarney said of Antwine's play against Kentucky. "He was 24 pluses out of 28 plays and was in the Champions club. I can't even tell you how proud I am of him. I just hope it continues with his health because he is really a good football player. We are all starting to figure that out now that he can practice and play. He'll make a major contribution at this University and our football team if he remains healthy and his back holds up. He had almost 30 snaps Saturday, so he's right in the thick of playing time. He will make Lawrence Marsh better too because he will push him. He will go out there and do some things that Lawrence sees and saw Saturday. It will be real good competition between those two."

That competition has helped a defensive line that struggled against the Georgia Bulldogs last season. There is someone at every position on the heels of every starter and McCarney knows that is making the first and second unit better.

"I played nine or 10 Saturday...it started this last March," he said of creating a large rotation. "It's a good rotation, the two's understand and I think the one's do too. As time goes past you aren't a two you are a one. If guys come off that bench and play like starters…we have a chance for a real special season."

And maybe a special game this Saturday that looks nothing last season's performance.


Fightin Gators Top Stories