Notebook: Carter and Campbell leading defensive resurgence

Nov 11, 2020 | 0 comments

With nose tackle Kyree Campbell not available for the first three games for an undisclosed reason, Zachary Carter was forced to move inside to tackle, a position that he’s undersized for. Under that configuration, the Gators gave up 33.3 points, 164 rushing yards, and 495 total yards per game. They forced just three turnovers.

Since Campbell’s return against Missouri two weeks ago, they’re giving up 22.5 points, 102.5 rushing yards and 262.5 total yards per game. They’ve forced five turnovers.

“Kyree’s my boy,” Carter said. “I’m happy he’s back. I think we play well together. Having Kyree move inside, that allowed me to go back out at end, and I feel like we’ve been effective.”

Obviously, there are other factors involved, but there’s no denying that getting Campbell back inside and Carter moving back to his more natural position has greatly improved the defensive line’s play.

Campbell is a steady run-stuffer who eats up multiple blocks and creates open lanes for others to make plays. He’s also chipped in two tackles-for-loss, including a sack. Meanwhile, Carter isn’t the most explosive athlete upfront, so his game relies heavily on his strength. He’s extremely strong and physical for a defensive end but has just average strength for a tackle.

Linebacker James Houston said playing behind a dominant defensive line makes his job a lot more fun.

“That D-Line is tough to stop no matter who you put in front of us,” he said. “I don't care what blockers you put in front of us. you line them boys up, and you've got the two linebackers in there; it's going to be hard to run the ball on us. It's really good, having the boys up there. They’re dominant, they're experienced, and they’re out there having fun.”

With the dynamic duo on the field together, the defense has given up just seven points in four quarters.

“You have talented players that have experience in our system, have experience playing in the league,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “They have the ability to set the edge in the run game, win one-on-one blocks. They can be stout at the point of attack. They can command double teams which can free other people up with their movements. They can create penetration and make a play, or they can spin it to another spot. So, kind of like anything, anytime you can put good players on the field it allows you to be successful.”

Third and Grantham (in a good way)

Perhaps the statistic that’s most indicative of the defensive improvement in the last two games is the third and fourth down conversion rate. In the first three games, UF allowed opponents to convert 61.1 percent of the time. In the last two games, that number shrank to 21.9 percent, including just 17.9 percent on third down.

Grantham said getting off the field more regularly is a combination of both better execution on third downs and better play on early downs to put them in better third-down situations.

“Generally speaking, when you can get it above 3rd-and-6, your chances of winning are greater [than] if its two, three, four,” he said. “I think the players are doing a really good job of understanding what we’re asking them to do. They’re executing the call when it’s made, and then they’re making plays. They’re getting their hands on balls when they’re in one-on-one matchups. Go back to Marco [Wilson], for example. Georgia ran a dig route on him, and we were in man. He undercut it, got the ball, got his hands on it, broke it up. That’s a one-on-one play. That’s going to happen in the rush and in the coverage.“Whether you play man or zone, at the end of the day, you still have to match the guy in your area, and you’ve got to make plays on balls. Guys understand that. I think the credit really needs to go to the players because they’ve done a really good job executing what we ask them to do, and they’ve done a good job of watching tape to improve the things we needed to in order to improve and be where we are right now.”

Carter doesn’t want fight to define him

Carter has made 11.5 tackles-for-loss and six sacks in his career. He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following his 1.5-sack performance against South Carolina earlier this season.

Unfortunately, there’s one image that will likely trump all of the good things he’s done in some people’s minds – the image of him throwing multiple punches during the halftime brawl against Missouri. Carter was ejected from the game and suspended for the first half against Georgia.

“I don’t want to be considered as a hothead or anything like that,” Carter said. “I see what people are saying now. I let my emotions get the best of me in that situation. I think it was a dirty hit on our quarterback. But what really got guys riled up [was] when they started to come at us. I didn’t want to hit anyone; that wasn’t my intention to hit anyone, but I got caught in the moment.

“I really didn’t want that image portrayed of me because they were showing it everywhere. Everywhere I looked on TV, on the internet, they were showing that everywhere. I didn’t like that image being shown because I just let my emotions get the best of me for 30 seconds, and I ended up getting ejected and costing the team. But that’s not that type of guy I am.”

While the incident was unfortunate and certainly not part of the plan, he believes it helped unite the team and gave them an energy that carried over to the Georgia game.

“I will say it did give us an edge,” he said. “At halftime during that game, guys were hyped; we were together, and I feel like ever since that halftime, we continued to carry that chip on our shoulder, and I feel like we should continue to play with that edge the rest of the season.”

McPherson fueled by lack of recognition

Despite having the highest made field goal percentage in the country over the past 2 ½ seasons, kicker Evan McPherson only has a pair of Preseason All-SEC Third Team honors on his resume.

McPherson said he believes he is one of the best kickers in the country, and he uses the lack of recognition as motivation.

“You’re going to have those people that are doubting you and your abilities,” he said. “For me, I would say it helps me. You kind of just have that chip on your shoulder and you have that thing that you’re trying to achieve and trying to prove others wrong. So, I think coming into each season, I haven’t really been looked at as one of the best in the SEC or even the NCAA. So whenever I come out, I just try to show everybody what I can do and that I am one of the best in the SEC and overall in college football.”

Those who vote for postseason awards and All-American teams may have no choice but to include him with the season he’s having so far. McPherson has drilled eight of nine field goals and all 21 extra points. After entering this season with just one career make from 50-plus yards out, he’s made a program-record four field goals in excess of 50 yards this season. His five career makes from 50-plus are tied for the second-most in school history behind Caleb Sturgis’ eight. He still has plenty of time left in his career to break that record.

McPherson has been so automatic that it’s more surprising when he misses a kick that it is when he nails one from 50 yards out. Such was the case on Saturday when he pushed a 44-yard attempt wide right in the fourth quarter for his first miss of the year. However, he put that miss out of his mind quickly and made a 34-yarder three possessions later.

“It's kind of one of those things where I know kind of what happened in the situation and kind of just swallow it and move on, go to the next kick because as a kicker you can't really just live on that because, if you do, you're just really going to hurt your next attempt,” McPherson said.

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