From M*A*S*H Unit to Smash Unit

The Florida Gator defense has played well so far this season, but at times there has just been something missing. Early in the year, the Gators weren't getting a bunch of pressure up front and creating havoc like we were accustomed to seeing a year ago. With everyone returning from last year's two-deep on defense, there shouldn't be a drop off. Alas, they haven't been healthy....until now.

The Florida defense entered the game with Georgia Saturday feeling pretty good about themselves. They were starting to come alive up front and become the playmakers that everyone has been looking for. However, early in the game against Georgia there were some big plays given up, right into the heart of the defensive front. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney said it was just a matter of everyone being on the same page.

"It wasn't any one guy or any one position," McCarney said of the Gators giving up big runs early to Georgia freshman tailback Washaun Ealey. "There was a missed fit here or we didn't get a check n another one. That is their fault we have to listen and get it fixed. A couple of times we just turned sideways and didn't play good fundamentally and we got it fixed as we went along."

"Any time they run the ball we want to fix it immediately. That is coach to coach, player to coach, player to player, coach to player, communicate it, don't cover your rear end and say everything is fine. If you were wrong, or you got blocked or didn't hear something, let us know and we will try and fix the problem as fast as we can."

The Gators did and eventually were able to hold the Bulldogs to 286 total yards while forcing four interceptions and getting three sacks an six tackles for loss on the day. A large part of the statistics are because of the outstanding recent play of senior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The Gators seem to have a new attitude on the edge with a healthy Cunningham.

"Most of it has been Cunningham and Dunlap," McCarney said when asked why the pass rush has been so effective lately. "We are getting some push and collapse by the inside guys, but that is clearly an area we have to get better at. Those two guys off the edge are playing as good as any pair of defensive ends in college football and they need to continue that. They haven't been doing that all year. If you get the speed, get the pressure, get them stepping up, now you need to get those inside guys coming too. I think we are tied for first in the conference with 23 sacks and we have to keep adding to that this week."

It is all about relentless effort and part of that is having enough bodies up front to keep throwing at the opponent so that the defensive line doesn't wear down. Up until Saturday, the Gators were running a little thin at defensive tackle with starters Lawrence Marsh and Jaye Howard, both sidelined with injuries.

With those two back, McCarney is looking for the inside pas rush to do a better job of complementing the outside pass rush of the ends.

"There were times Saturday when (Georgia) went maximum protection and that makes the job harder," McCarney said. "When you are real good at play action and lead draws which they were, you have to play run first too. One of the challenges we have now is that we have to get more from those inside guys. We aren't going to get five sacks a game from the inside, but we need to get more out of them."

It is all about shuffling in when the first guy gets tired. The staff and players understand the concept and it is to everyone's benefit to stay ready to go. It makes it easier when you have four true SEC caliber players out there as opposed to only having two healthy bodies.

"Keep them fresh (is the idea), a couple of games we were just holding our breath," McCarney said of the missing depth. "I was telling them, 'this is what you need to do to win...and don't get hurt, and we'll be just fine.' That's a great message from your position coach isn't it...don't get hurt? It was about time for me to go in the game and that would be really ugly."

"I just want a good rotation, keep them fresh. On the field at 90% is not good enough in the SEC, if you need a blow just let me know. We have a good signal system they let me know and we talk on the sidelines all the time. When you have trust with guys we just keep it going and don't worry about that."

McCarney liked what he saw from Lawrence marsh and Jaye Howard on Saturday.

"They were solid and helped us win the game," he said. "Not All-SEC performances, but they definitely helped us win. Now they have a lot of rust knocked off and Marsh needs a lot of rust knocked off because he has missed so much. Jaye Howard came in and did some good things. They have to play better and both will. Now they can come back and practice all week, and will be ready to go. Justin Trattou (also returned from injury) and all those guys are ready to go now."

"It is good to see Marsh, he hasn't done much of anything in the first two months," McCarney said. "Trattou has defied all the medical odds and came back in two weeks. They said 4-6 weeks and he was back on the field in two weeks."

One player that stepped in this year and has played well is freshman nose tackle Omar Hunter. Hunter missed last season due to a back injury and then subsequent weight gain that left him out of shape. He had a really good spring and changed his body while also staying healthy. Hunter has started all season in place of Marsh and gets better every week.

"He is a guy that came in with high expectations and was a disappointment more to himself than anyone else," McCarney said of Hunter's first season. "He wanted to make sure that everyone knows that he was going to help this program and it was the right decision to bring him here. He wanted respect from everyone. Earning trust and respect from everyone in this program is real important. He is doing that every week and I am real proud of him."

"He is real coachable and conscientious. I love coaching him and am real proud of him. He will never get to 6-2, where we list him...he will never see the far side of 5-11, but you can still be very effective in this conference if you are tough, relentless, and coachable, and Omar has all those things."

While Hunter doesn't show up on the stats too often, he is more of as disruptor and always seems to be the guy that allows others to make the tackle or the play on the field. One guy that is a play maker is Jaye Howard, and McCarney talked about him as well. Having Howard and Hunter on the field at the same time, could be a lethal combination moving forward.

"I'd say he has the most potential (as a pass rusher from the inside)," McCarney said of Howard. He isn't the most accomplished, but he's still only a sophomore. I think he will develop into a real good one."

Against Mississippi State, the Gators were missing Marsh, Howard, and Trattou. They also didn't have a fully healthy Jermaine Cunningham. Now, the line is close to full strength and is starting to show their play making ability, leading the SEC in sacks and third in the conference in tackles for loss. They should only get better.


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