Defense Proved They're Worthy

In all the comparisons that have been made between Florida's defense this season with the national championship team two years ago, there's one thing that stands out most. The 2006 defense made plays to win games when the game was on the line. During Saturday's SEC Championship game, the Gator defense added it to their resume.

Through three quarters of Saturday's game, the Alabama defense accumulated 322 yards, scored 20 points, picked up 17 first downs and converted 5-of-11 third downs. In the fourth quarter, the gained just one-yard, picked up just one first down and missed their only third down conversion.

The Gator offense score 14 fourth quarter points, but the defense shut the Bama offense down cold.

"We knew that if we came out and made a stand then we would win the game," linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "I think our defense showed up today."

After Florida took a 24-20 lead with 9:21 left, Alabama had a chance to answer the score. The Tide had scored on their previous two drives and kept the Gator defense on the field for more than ten minutes in the third quarter.

On the first play of the drive, Bama quarterback Jon Parker Wilson tried to hit Julio Jones streaking down the sideline. To that point, Jones had five catches for 124 yards. But cornerback Joe Haden timed the play perfectly knocking the ball away with safety Major Wright hitting Jones for added insurance.

Alabama faced a 3rd-and-8 when the Gator defense then made quite possibly the biggest play of the game. Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham moved inside after the snap and sacked Wilson for a loss of 11 yards.

"It was big because it was at a point where we were up and we needed to get a third down stop," defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "It was a stunt. We had a four-man front and we moved the guys around and he got the sack. Dunlap actually helped the stunt because he was the one that picked and allowed Cunningham to get free."

"We knew they were going to pass the ball," Spikes said. "We just had to rush it and Jermaine is a down field rusher, so I knew he would get there."

The Gator defense made up for earlier mistakes in the fourth quarter. Haden who made the play against Jones missed the first tackle on Jones earlier in the game that resulted in a 64-yard gain and Alabama's first touchdown.

"The one big play we missed a bunch of tackles," Strong said. "Jones is a big physical player, but when it was time to lock him down, our guys did a good job."

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Gator defense stayed disciplined and rendered the Bama offense as ineffective.

"They started running the same plays, so it was just up to us to stop them," Spikes said. "Our defense is based on a gap-scheme. If one guy gets out of their gap, that's when they run the ball like they were. We just got it together and we started controlling the line."

All week long, the Gators had to hear how tough and physical the Alabama offensive line was and how hard running back Glen Coffee ran. But the Florida defense minimized the early blows and came through in the end.

"That was a really physical game for us, but we knew that it was going to be physical," Strong said.

Just like most years, the Gators proved that defense wins championships. Now they hope that defense will lead them to another national championship.

"You do have to play defense," Strong said. "They have a great defense, and at the end our defense came through. You look at it and both offenses moved the ball. In the end we were able to stop them, but they made some big stops, too."


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