Notebook: Defense looking for more consistency, UF ranked 6th by CFP committee

Nov 25, 2020 | 0 comments

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To say Gator fans are unhappy about the state of the UF defense would be an understatement. Scrolling through Twitter last Saturday between noon and 4 p.m. wasn’t for the faint of heart.

On paper, fans have every reason to be upset. The Gators are ninth in the SEC in total defense and passing defense and seventh in scoring defense. Opponents are averaging 6.1 yards per play. Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, they gave up more than 400 yards and more than 9 yards per passing attempt to a winless team with a true freshman quarterback. That performance came on the heels of allowing more than 450 yards and 35 points to Arkansas at home.

The Gators, however, believe that they’re a lot closer to being a good defense than most people realize. The Razorbacks gained nearly half of their total yards on three long touchdowns. Against Vanderbilt, about nine plays were responsible for 218 yards, according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The Commodores gained 188 yards on their remaining 60 or so plays.

“If you just reduce [the number of explosive plays] to half of that, you’re holding teams under 5 yards a play, which would put you as a premier defense in the country,” Grantham said.

Grantham outlined four things that the defense needs to do to limit the explosive plays and make themselves into a “premier defense.”

“It gets down to player accountability,” he said. “That’s on time, that’s preparation, that’s the way you practice. That’s everything, not just on Saturdays; that’s Monday through Saturday. Then the other thing is because our offense is so dynamic and we’re able to put points on the board, you’re going to have shots and things down the field that may not normally happen during the game, so that’s going to give you opportunities to make plays on the ball. So, we’ve got to work to find ways to make plays on the ball. If we make one or two of those plays, you’re eliminating that.

“I do think we need to continue to always emphasize tackling in space because that can be an issue, and that can create plays that we don’t want to see. And then the last thing is you got to understand the recognition of tempo. Meaning, when we played Arkansas, we practiced all week, tempo, because that’s what they did. And really for the most part other than I thought the third quarter, the first series, we were able to handle that. This time, it was in spurts. So, you got to recognize that spurt and be ready to go play.”

Of course, the players and coaches have repeatedly stated throughout the season that they’re not too far away and given reasons why the next game might be different. It’s one thing to know what the issues are but a completely different thing to actually correct them.

Tempo has been something that’s given the Gators fits all season, and it showed up again on Saturday. There were numerous occasions when the Commodores snapped the ball while the Gators were still standing around and directing each other on where to go. On some plays, UF had defenders making a mad dash from one side of the field to the other as the ball was snapped. They never seemed to adjust as the game progressed.

Linebacker Ventrell Miller said the key to turning things around is communication. All it takes is for one person to be out of position for an explosive play to happen.

“It’s frustrating, but we always have a next-play mentality, back to the next play,” Miller said. “And when those things like that happen, it just puts pressure on us to show that really we can communicate better and having everybody doing their job and executing the play. It’s a little frustrating, but we bounce back and continue to play hard.”

Maybe this week the results will follow.

UF ranked sixth in initial CFP poll

The College Football Playoff committee released its first poll of the season on Tuesday night, and, as expected, Florida checked in at No. 6. Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, and Texas A&M comprise the five teams ahead of Florida.

The Gators figure to control their own destiny when it comes to the College Football Playoff. If they win out and beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, they’ll almost certainly jump Alabama and Texas A&M in the final rankings, even with their loss to the Aggies in October.

Young linebackers stepping up

With James Houston out for the Vanderbilt game with an injury and Ventrell Miller in and out of the game due to an injury he suffered in the first quarter, Florida relied on a pair of unproven linebackers for the bulk of the second half.

Redshirt freshman Ty’Ron Hopper made three tackles. He did an excellent job of staying in his gap and also covered well.

“When he was a younger guy, he was a corner,” Grantham said. “As he got a little bit bigger, he moved to safety, and then he finally ended up moving in the box as a linebacker. So, they found ways to get him on the field, and when you watch his tape, he showed up as a good player, so I saw him as a good football player.

“I think the hardest thing to do sometimes is transition to inside ’backer just because of the motion and movements, and you have to do both, the run defense and the pass coverage, and he’s worked hard on that. He’s definitely a guy that when he’s moving forward can make plays, and we’ll continue to develop that, and he’ll continue to work, and we’ll find ways to get him some snaps.”

Hopper’s classmate, Jesiah Pierre, made four stops and was credited with half a tackle-for-loss in the most extensive action of his career.

“It’s always great to see the young guys get the opportunity to go out there versus the SEC, big opponents, and basically, when everybody knows what they’re doing, I feel like all them guys, they do a great job out there taking control of the defense,” Miller said.

After the win over Vanderbilt, coach Dan Mullen expressed some displeasure with the way the defensive coaching staff rotated players.

“I want to roll guys early,” Mullen said. “I don't think we did defensively. I think offensively we did a good job of that. On defense, I was a little disappointed. I got on [the headset], we haven't been rolling guys, and I'm like, ‘Hey, I want to roll these guys through.’ We get a long season, you've got to develop guys, we've got to stay fresh for four quarters, and the best way to do that is roll guys through and build depth and experience, and you've got to do it early in the game.”

Still, with Miller and Houston expected to play this week, Grantham wouldn’t commit to playing younger players such as Hopper and Pierre more this week. They’ll continue to base playing time off of who they feel has earned the right to play in practice this week.

“I think we play a lot of players,” Grantham said. “If you look, we play a lot of players, and we’ll continue to play a lot of players, and as situations arise to play guys, we’ll obviously do that.”

Dexter learning from coaches, teammates

As Florida’s first five-star high school signee in five years, defensive tackle Gervon Dexter entered college with a ton of outside expectations. He made an immediate impact in his first game, intercepting a deflected pass early in the first quarter against Ole Miss.

As could be expected for a freshman interior lineman, Dexter’s contributions have been minimal since then. He’s played in every game and made two tackles-for-loss. He was credited with half a sack against Vanderbilt for his first career sack.

“You don't see many 6-6, 310-pound defensive linemen, freshmen,” he said. “So, I would say that kind of helped me. And then the biggest transition for me has been probably the offensive line. In high school, you don't see the size of the offensive linemen in high school, so that's probably been the biggest thing.”

Dexter is enormously gifted but still relatively new to the game of football. He didn’t play football seriously until his junior year of high school. Because of that, he’s still very raw and unrefined in some areas of his game. Being able to observe older teammates like Kyree Campbell and Zachary Carter every day and learning from an accomplished position coach in David Turner has helped speed up his development.

“Coming in, I had a lot of bad technique and still do have bad technique,” Dexter said. “So, just learning technique has been a big thing I need to work on and stuff like that.

“Playing behind Kyree is probably the best thing for me because I get to see what he does wrong and what he does right. So, when I come in, I can know that ‘OK, Kyree just did that wrong,’ so then we do that right. And then, guys like Zach [Carter], you just learn from them, like just watching them. You just learn from people like that. And then they've been real good leaders for me because every night Zach hits me up, ‘Hey, you need to stretch,’ and Kyree, before when he wasn't playing, he was hitting me up saying, ‘This is what I need you to do this game. This is what I need you to do that game.’ So, it's been a blessing to play behind guys like that.”

Quick Hitters

  •  Todd Grantham said Ty'Ron Hopper has been able to accomplish some stuff for them, and they're going to continue to give guys the reps that they earn. Jesiah Pierre, Rashad Torrence, Tre'Vez Johnson, and Hopper were in there on that final possession where they got the interception. They'll continue to develop them.
  • Grantham doesn't think his defensive scheme is overly complex. It's worked before, and they'll continue to teach it.
  •  Gervon Dexter says his size has allowed him to get on the field early, and the biggest adjustment for him has been the size of the offensive linemen.
  • Everything that was said during today’s press-conferences is posted in the We Chomp Chat.

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