Hicks Focused on Stopping the Run

When Dustin Doe had to miss a few games in the middle of the season after minor surgery, sophomore Brandon Hicks took over at weakside linebacker. Ever since Doe's return, he's had to fight for his spot because Hicks has played so well. The Jacksonville-native has 32 tackles and a sack in four games started for the Gators.

The young linebacker faces his toughest challenge this week, however, in trying to stop Alabama's run game. The Crimson Tide boast two of the league's top rushers in Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram. Coffee is a 1,000-yard rusher this season, ranking behind just Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.

"He is all heart, which is something we haven't seen a lot of," Brandon Hicks said of Coffee. "He's not one of those big move makers. He can make guys miss. We just need to get him down before he can make a strong move."

Of course, getting him down will be the challenge. Alabama's talented offensive line led my Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell could occupy the Gator defensive line, putting more emphasis on Florida's linebacking corps.

"They have a great line in front of them, so they don't really have to do much to get off the line," Hicks said. "From what we've seen, they run pretty hard. They've got some speed, just like what we see in practice. We have to do things faster. Our reaction time has to be faster. We just have to do things better."

Florida will have a fast track to play on. This will be their first game of the season playing on turf, and the first time they'll be inside a dome since the BCS national championship in 2006. Hicks has never played in a dome before.

"It's real exciting," he said. "It's not that everyone gets to show off their speed, but you get the feeling like there's no stopping us now. There's no water to slip on and no mud like last game."

Florida has taken advantage of their turf practice field that was installed four years ago, but the field is only 60 yards long, so they've had to share their space with the offense.

"We've been on and off so we constantly get a fell for it," Hicks said. "It's a lot different than grass. On grass, sometimes you'll lose your footing, but on the turf, your cleats hold the ground a lot better."

Florida has played a lot of big games this year – Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and FSU – but this is by far the biggest stage with the most at stake. Hicks said it's been obvious this week at practice that even though they've kept the same routine, it's been different.

"Everything is more focused and more on point," Hicks said. "Practice is always like that, but it's now or never. Everyone has a different view of the game. The seniors, this is their last chance so you know they're going to play hard. The young guys are going to play hard, too, and try to help them get as far as we can."

Last year, Florida's defense wouldn't have been ready for a game like this. With nine new starters, there were some bumps along the road, but the defense has certainly responded to all the offseason criticism. Alabama will be their biggest test, though.

"Last year, we weren't mature enough and we just didn't have the experience to do what it takes," Hicks said. "We heard all the quotes and saw all the news clippings. Everyone was saying that we didn't play all that good and didn't play up to our ability. We didn't do this, we didn't do that. Right now, we're doing it for us. We have to go out and play the way we know we can play."

The Gator defense is well aware of the challenge that awaits them at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. How much they've matured and improved will determine who is carrying around the SEC logo after the game.

"It's going to be a big challenge, but it's something we've spent a lot of time on," Hicks said. "We've watched a lot of film. We're going to go out there and play hard."

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