Woeful defense finally catches up to Gators

Oct 11, 2020 | 0 comments

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Florida played with fire in their first two games of this season. While they won both games by two scores, they gave up more than 900 yards of offense, 59 points, and allowed South Carolina and Ole Miss to convert 20 of 38 third and fourth down opportunities.

They were able to overcome their defensive shortcomings with a pair of record-setting offensive performances and making just enough stops at the right times.

On Saturday, they finally got burned, as No. 21 Texas A&M defeated No. 4 Florida, 41-38, at Kyle Field. The Aggies (2-1) accumulated 543 yards, gained 32 first downs, and converted 12 of 15 third downs. They averaged 7.3 yards per play, including 5.4 yards per rush. The Gators (2-1) failed to sack quarterback Kellen Mond and only hit him a couple of times. The Aggies scored on seven of their nine drives and punted just once.

“Really good team,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Give them a lot of credit. Really good football team. They made a lot of plays today. They’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of explosive players on their team. They made a lot of plays they needed to, made one more than we did.”

Mond looked like the greatest quarterback in the country instead of the wildly inconsistent player he’s been throughout his career against UF’s defense, completing 25 of 35 throws for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

Running back Isaiah Spiller ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries (6.4 yards per carry). On a drive in the third quarter, Spiller singlehandedly led the Aggies down the field, rushing five times for 58 yards and a 3-yard score.

Receiver Caleb Chapman entered the game with six career catches. He caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators, including a game-tying 51-yard score with 4:30 to play.

“We have to get off this field,” defensive end/linebacker Jeremiah Moon said. “We have to wrap up, we have to tackle, we have to get to the quarterback, and we have to cover. It’s simple, and we’re not doing that right now. Those are the things we’re going to have to come in on Monday ready to work on.”

In eight conference games last year, Florida gave up 15 touchdowns. They’ve given up 13 in three games this season.

Florida’s defensive issues are numerous and permeate throughout all three levels. The defensive ends couldn’t get within yards of Mond for most of the game and did a poor job of setting the edge against the run. The defensive tackles got pushed around by Texas A&M’s experienced offensive line. The linebackers continued to struggle with tackling and gave some big plays in coverage. Cornerback Marco Wilson got picked on over and over by Mond and played perhaps the worst game of his career. The safeties looked lost on several passing plays and left the cornerbacks vulnerable.

The Gators failed to get lined up prior to the snap on at least a few occasions, and some of the defensive play calls were head-scratchers.

“We’re going to reevaluate a lot of things defensively, where we’re at right now,” Mullen said. “We’re going to evaluate some things with our personnel, where we’re at. Our ability to make plays, make sure we have all the right guys at the right position to put us in position to be able to make the plays we need to to get off the field. We can’t give up 13 of 15 conversions in a day and expect to win any game.”

The only offense the defense stopped on Saturday was their own. UF’s offense averaged 7.2 yards per play and threw for more than 300 yards. However, because the defense couldn’t get off the field, they ran just 56 plays and held the ball for just more than 25 minutes. The Gators have one of the most prolific offenses in the country, but they’re being wasted by a defense that can’t play at even a mediocre level.

“We know we have a very powerful offense,” linebacker James Houston said. “We know we can be in high-scoring matches and come out with a win, but we ended up with an ‘L’ today. Defense has to execute a little bit more if we want to come out of those battles with ‘W’s.’”

With the truncated season nearing the halfway mark, the Gators find themselves evaluating and possibly overhauling the entire defense on the fly.

The Gators have no time to sulk and dwell on what went wrong against the Aggies. They’ll host LSU next Saturday. While the Tigers are just 1-2, they scored 41 points and put up nearly 500 yards of offense in their loss to Missouri on Saturday. UF must flush this loss from its memory and not let the Aggies beat them twice.

“In the past, I think we’ve kind of lagged off when we took losses in big games like Georgia, and we come out the next week kind of sluggish,” Houston said. “This one, I think, it hurt a little bit more because I don’t think we expected to even be that close. We wanted to blow them out and send a statement. This one hurt a little bit more. I expect us to be in practice this week going 110 percent getting ready for LSU, getting ready to whip some Tiger butt.

“Our philosophy is fast, physical, and aggressive. By doing that, we expect to be knocking quarterbacks out of the game and taking control of the game. These past two years, the Gators have been a stronghold on defense, and so, we’re going to get back there. We need some time. We’re going to fix some stuff up in practice, and we’re going to come back next week.”

The Gators started this season with championship aspirations created by having one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, experience at a lot of key positions, coaching continuity amid the pandemic and a relatively favorable schedule.

All of those lofty goals – beating Georgia, winning the SEC East, making the College Football Playoff and competing for a national title – are still there for the taking. However, their margin for error got a lot smaller on Saturday.

It’s now or never for the Gators’ defense.

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