Veteran defensive line playing with a chip on its shoulder
Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Florida's defensive line is known for the fast and ferocious pressure it puts on opposing quarterbacks.
But heading into this season, fans and the media were putting their own blitz on the Gators defensive line by setting high expectations for this veteran unit.
Through eight games, they're surely lived up to them.
Florida's defensive line has battled through injuries, a suspension and some talented offenses to emerge as one of the top units in the SEC.
Defensive line coach Greg Mattison said there could be more to come.
"The only thing this group set out to do is be the best they can be," Mattison said. "I don't know they've arrived yet. I won't be able to answer that question until the season's over with."
If this talented unit has yet to arrive, they're certainly enjoying one heck of a journey. The Gators defensive line has helped Florida hold opponents to just 67.2 rushing yards per game, first in the SEC and fifth in the nation. Crucial, considering the Gators are ninth in the SEC in pass defense.
The defensive line was a big factor in Florida's win over Georgia Saturday in Jacksonville. Defensive end Derrick Harvey stripped Georgia's Kregg Lumpkin on the first play of the second half. End/tackle Ray McDonald scooped up the loose ball and ran nine yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 Florida lead.
It proved to be the winning score in the Gators' 21-14 victory. So what's been the key to the defensive line's success?
"It's the desire to be good. It's the experience they have," Mattison said. "They've played a lot of football here. I think it's them really wanting to show people what they can do."
Mattison said Florida's defensive linemen believe they still have a lot to prove. That stems back from the criticism they endured three years ago when their production lagged during their first few seasons at Florida.
"They weren't looked upon as being very much," Mattison said. "There was an article that talked about them not being Gator football players. They were immature at that time. I don't know if they played as hard as they could play at that time."
Now, they are. Jarvis Moss has emerged at defensive end after recovering from an infection in his hip that plagued him early in his career. Harvey, a redshirt sophomore, is second in the SEC with seven sacks after a slow start to his UF career. McDonald, a redshirt senior and the reigning SEC defensive lineman of the week, has emerged as a playmaker at both end and tackle.
And seniors Marcus Thomas, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen have been stuffing the middle at tackle.
"Like football in general, everything starts up front," Moss said. "In the offseason, we busted our ass. We learned from the things we weren't very good at last year when we went 9-3."
The line has also overcome adversity during the season, like injuries to tackles Javier Estopinan and Clint McMillan as well as Thomas' two-game suspension.
Moss credits the turnaround to Mattison, the coaching veteran of 30 years who spent eight seasons coaching defense at Notre Dame before Meyer brought him to Gainesville prior to last season.
"It's got a lot to do with our coach," Moss said. "I give all the credit to Coach Mattison. We had the ability, but he really put it all together and made us practice harder and got us ready for every game."
Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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