Florida Defensive Preview

Mark McLeod of GatorCountry.com previews the Florida Gators defense and provides an in depth analysis of how they will match up against the Gamecock offense. Read inside for this informative preview of what to expect in Saturday's game.



"I do not believe we played great defense (against Vanderbilt)," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "As a matter of fact, I thought it was our worst game of the year. No disrespect to Vanderbilt, but they had two premier players, number ten (Earl Bennett) and (Chris) Nickson, the quarterback played very well. I thought that he made some great throws in the end, but we have to play much better than we did on defense. That's one of the first times this year and one of the few times in the last two years that I can say that I don't believe we played great defense".


The Big Uglies

Florida has a wealth of experience, speed, and athleticism throughout their defense. That fact has not been lost on opposing offensive coordinators who have adjusted by shortening their passing game. The two and three step drops by quarterbacks hitting receivers who run a bevy of quick slants, screens, and skinny posts have cut into the Gators ability to sack the quarterback. They have been able to get pressure on the quarterback though.

This group is nasty against the run. Florida ranks fifth nationally having allowed just 70.2 yards per game.

Senior noseguard Marcus Thomas (6-3 296) was dismissed from the squad. Florida co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison moved Ray McDonald (6-3 280) down from his defensive end position. RayMac has been outstanding and the Gators should not suffer much of a drop off. McDonald really turned the corner three weeks ago after having both knees surgically after last season. McDonald has 24 tackles, including three sacks among his four tackles for a loss. He was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the week for his play against Georgia and graded out in the champions club last week.

Florida co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that he should have played true freshman reserve noseguard Brandon Antwine (6-0 271) more in the Auburn game. Had he known that Thomas' actions would cause his dismissal- he wouldn't have hesitated. Antwine has progressed well enough to warrant additional playing time. Expect to see him more often to give RayMac a breather. Again, it's been a long season

Senior tackle Joe Cohen (6-2 290) will be starting opposite McDonald. He has racked up 16 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, including ½ a sack, a forced fumble, and has forced a fumble. He has also broken up a pass. Signed as a running back out of Palm Bay High School, Cohen struggled to find his niche at Florida. He has seen time at fullback, defensive end, and finally, at defensive tackle where he said that he is most comfortable. Cohen has played well all season. Reserve Steven Harris (6-5 285) is a former starter at defensive tackle. He has six tackles, including a tackle for loss. He has also been credited with half a sack. Harris has also played well. Both Cohen and Harris possess great strength, athleticism, and speed. Both Cohen and Harris earned champions club status for their play last weekend in Jacksonville.

The Gators were set at defensive end. The dismissal of noseguard Marcus Thomas forced the Gators to move Ray McDonald inside, causing some depth issues at the position. Florida is considering taking the redshirt off freshman Lawrence Marsh, who the coaches say has graduated from the learning curve to practice field playmaker.

Regardless, Florida has the luxury of having two premier playmakers man the position who both earned grades as champions. You can't begin talking about tremendous quickness, speed, and potential without mentioning the name of defensive end Jarvis Moss (6-6 255). His first step off the ball is unreal. Moss' quickness is reminiscent of Georgia's Quinton Moses. The junior bulked up over the off-season and plays against the run very well too. Moss has 39 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, which includes 4.5 sacks, and a team high 10 quarterback hurries. He also has forced two fumbles. Moss was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts against Vanderbilt.

Redshirt sophomore Derrick Harvey (6-5 252) will be making only his third start. He is known for his speed and quickness, yet his intensity is one thing that appears to be his most significant improvement. He doesn't have Moss' first step, but he is quick. Harvey leads the Southeastern Conference with eight sacks. He has notched 22 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, and has recovered two fumbles.

Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-2 231) is one of the centerpieces to this extremely talented defense. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his monster play against Tennessee. He led the Gators in that game with 11 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Everett can run, hit, and has a nose for the football as evidenced by his team leading 58 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and four quarterback hurries. He should garner plenty of votes for the all conference team after the season.

Brandon Siler (6-2 235) is one of the Gators tremendously experienced linebackers. Describing Siler is rather easy. The All-SEC selection is simply a great football player who seemingly plays his best football in big games. He had terrific game against the Volunteers with seven tackles, two for a loss, and a sack. He finished with nine stops against Auburn, second best in the game. He is currently second on the team with 54 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, including three sacks, three quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery, and a forced fumble. He has a slightly sprained ankle, but is expected to play.

Fifth year senior Brian Crum (6-3 235) mans the strongside linebacker position as a first year starter. Crum has seen significant action on special teams throughout his career, while playing as a reserve at tight end moved to linebacker in '03 where he saw very little action. Crum has 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, which includes .5 sacks. He also has secured a quarterback hurry.

There is plenty of talent playing behind the starting linebackers. They are getting limited experience in the games and several snaps on special teams. True freshmen Brandon Spikes (6-3 240) (six tackles) and Dustin Doe (6-0 215) (15 tackles) will be key challengers for starting jobs next season.

Overview: The Florida defensive front has limited opponents to just 2.7 yards per carry and 70.1 yards per game on the ground. That is tops in the conference and fifth best in the nation. The Gators have 26 sacks on the season, which second best in the conference. The Gators have recorded 12 of their sacks over the past three games against Auburn, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Much of that is due to the emergence of Harvey and the improved play of Moss.

Most expect a drop-off inside due to the loss of Marcus Thomas, who was having a first team All-SEC campaign. However, McDonald is playing awfully well. I wouldn't count on a significant slip, especially when pressuring the quarterback. Expect to see more of Harris and Antwine helping to keep everybody fresh.

Carolina ran the ball very well against Vanderbilt and Tennessee. They averaged 4.85 yards per carry in those two games. They put the ball in the air against Arkansas, running only 15 times.

Florida has been pretty good defending the red zone, allowing just eight touchdowns and six field goals in 22 opportunities. That is third best in the SEC. The Gators have also played much better on third down. In the past three games, Auburn converted just 6 of 16 (37.5%), Georgia 3 of 13 (23%), and Vanderbilt only just 4 of 14 (28%).

The Gamecocks are the worst team in the conference in the red zone at 65.7%.

ADVANTAGE: Florida



Secondary

"I finished watching their offense and their group of receivers, who I think are the best in the SEC," Meyer said. "We're going to have our hands full, because I'm not sure we match up three deep. We have Ryan (Smith) and Reggie (Nelson). Tremaine McCollum's our nickel and he's going to have to play his best game he's ever suited up for the Florida Gators to maintain with (Noah) Whiteside, (Sidney) Rice, and (Kenny) McKinley."

Florida received a tremendous boost when cover corner Ryan Smith (5-10 165) graduated and transferred to Florida from Utah this summer. He has been a blessing in the wake of the Avery Atkins departure. There was no learning curve, as he has a fine understanding of the defense from his days at Utah. Smith has 40 tackles. He has intercepted an SEC best six passes, all in conference play. If there is one area that Smith needs to shore up it's his hands- he has dropped two sure interceptions. Smith would have taken his third pick against the Crimson Tide to the house if not for getting a little too excited when he realized that nothing lay ahead of him but green grass. Two more interceptions would tie him for tops in the nation.

Playing the opposite corner is senior Reggie Lewis (5-10 196), who has a leg injury. He is expected to play though. Lewis is best remembered for making the play of the game, which sealed the Gators 49-42 double overtime victory over Commodores a year ago. Lewis has good speed, has improved his cover skills dramatically, and solid hands. He has two interceptions, one of which he returned for 35 yards. The other occurred last weekend against Georgia. Lewis has 17 tackles and has also knocked down four passes. Lewis earned champions club recognition for his play last weekend.

Strong safety Tony Joiner (6-0 208) is third on the team with 51 tackles. He also has 4.5 tackles for loss, has broken up three passes, two interceptions, and added a safety to his credit. The junior packs a wallop. Joiner is a first year starter, who has seen quite a bit of time on special teams and as a reserve.

The most feared member of the Florida secondary is free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1 195). Nelson is a Thorpe Award candidate. The junior is a fantastic football player who brings speed, quickness, football savvy, and hits like a brick. Furthermore, Nelson can do it all- play cover corner, strong, free, or nickel equally well. He was the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Alabama and followed up with another outstanding performance a week later against LSU. He returned a John Parker Wilson (Alabama) interception 70 yards for a touchdown. He is tied for second in the conference with four interceptions.

Overview: First things first…The Thorpe Award folks missed adding Florida cornerback Ryan Smith to the list of semi-finalists. Heck, he was even mentioned on their watch list. Smith was the Florida defensive player of the game last weekend.

The South Carolina quarterback rotation should prove to be very interesting. The Gators struggled at times to keep the versatile Chris Nickson bottled up. The loss of Thomas could very well tire out a thin crew for Florida at defensive end.

Second year headache Sidney Rice teams with Kenny McKinley to form a potent pair of receivers. That would seemingly be enough to keep the Gators busy. Add the mastermind that is Steve Spurrier and the Orange and Blue and that spells a busy week ahead.

VERY SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: Florida



Injuries: Sophomore defensive tackle Javier Estopinan (6-1 282) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. Brandon Siler (ankle), and Reggie Lewis (leg).


Analysis: Florida linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett figure to be very busy this weekend. They will be largely responsible for making certain Carolina has limited success running the draw, as well as, watching for those quick hits over the middle.

Carolina has run the football pretty effectively in recent weeks. That was until last week. Spurrier put the ball in the hands of his quarterbacks against a Razorback team that has been pretty good against the run and somewhat suspect versus the pass. Is there any doubt that Spurrier is going to predominantly throw the football against the fifth ranked run defense in the land?

Obviously, with the absence of Thomas, Carolina will run the draw early and see if McDonald and the Florida linebackers can get off the blocks and defend it. It's a large part of what Spurrier does anyway.

Meyer called out Tremaine McCollum this week in his presser. He said that the senior will have to play his finest game to help Smith and Lewis bottle up the Gamecocks receivers. The Florida defensive backs have made many an opposing quarterback pay for their mistakes. The Gators have picked off 14 passes, trailing only Alabama by one as the best in the conference. Ryan Smith and Reggie Nelson have been ball hawks. If the Gators can rattle Carolina's Syvelle Newton and Blake Mitchell- look out.

Florida has one of the Southeastern Conference's best defenses in the red zone. South Carolina is the worst SEC offense in the zone.

The Gators have given up just four rushing touchdowns this season. They boast the seventh best scoring defense in the nation at 13 points per game.

Florida 31 South Carolina 20

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