It may be too early to tell how prolific the offenses for Kentucky, Massachusetts and North Texas will be this season but the Florida defense has put up defensive statistics that strike fear into the heart of opponents.
“What can I say about them defensively?” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday. “This is probably the best defense we’ve faced since I’ve been here. They make you earn everything that you get.”
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins may be in his final year in Gainesville as he's sure to be a viable candidate for head coaching positions, but his smash unit leads America in total defense, allowing just 129.7 yards per game.
Against the Gators, the Minutemen managed just 187 total yards and averaged 1.3 yards per carry. The Wildcats aren’t going to represent the Eastern Division in Atlanta but their quarterbacks completed just as many passes (3) to Big Blue receivers as Florida defensive backs. The Mean Green ran it 28 times in “The Swamp” for a net of minus-13 yards and in spite of their quarterback’s last name being Fine, they completed just 6 of 22 passes.
Wait. There’s more.
Collins’ bunch has allowed just seven third-down conversions in 36 attempts. That's a rate of 19.4-percent. Florida leads the country with 16 sacks, sending its three foes back 112 yards on those plays.
Gone are Jonathan Bullard, Vernon Hargreaves III, Antonio Morrison, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole — all on NFL rosters. Experienced players took their place on the Florida defense.
The front seven includes a fifth-year senior, three seniors and three fourth-year juniors. The secondary isn’t exactly a set of green horns either with both starting corners and the top nickelback being juniors with the safeties being a fifth- and fourth-year guy.
Jalen “Teez” Tabor mocks to go in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The former Under Armour All-America gave Tennessee strong consideration while he was a recruit until Sal Sunseri lost his job as the Vols defensive coordinator. Tabor shifted gears, verbally committed to Arizona on national television but ultimately signed with Florida and is a playmaker on the perimeter.
Jarrad Davis is a dynamo at linebacker and could have been a high-round pick had he come out in January. Instead the Gators have a first- or second-round pick on the second level of Collins’ D.
"I think the jump in talent is going to be huge," Davis said of the contest with Tennessee. "This is a team that's highly talked about. They've been talked about all summer long. They were talked about all last year. It's always been, 'When is Tennessee going to do its thing?' And, 'It's Tennessee's time.' I wouldn't want it any other way. This is a game that's extremely hyped up."
Caleb Brantley commands two blockers at defensive tackle and is an NFL guy. Marcus Maye is their ball-hawking safety that will also see his name called by a pro franchise in the spring.
It goes without saying that it’s not the best time for Tennessee to be playing sloppy football on offense and to have consistent breakdowns up front, handing over almost 70 yards per game in its 3-0 start.
To combat what Florida does, second-year Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord will roll senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs out of the pocket, keep much of the passing game horizontal/simple and will stress the running game with Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
Facebook was created and Nick Saban was in Baton Rouge when the Vols last triumphed over the program a fair portion of Big Orange Country hates the most.
“We have to get better in a hurry in the small details,” Jones said. “The exciting thing is, it’s all correctible.”