Vandy's defense can give QBs fits
Published: Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
Remember Vanderbilt? Remember those days when they'd come to town with a tough defense that would send players to the NFL?
Or do you remember the other Vanderbilt? Two years ago, the Commodores came to town with a first-round NFL Draft pick and scored 42 points on a pretty good defense.
Or do you remember the more recent Vanderbilt, the one that stifled a Georgia offense that just scored 42 points on Florida? The Vandy that kept Steve Spurrier's offense out of the end zone earlier this year?
That's the Vanderbilt that will be coming to The Swamp today, one that has cycled back to defense. Those Woody Widenhofer teams would throw a scare into you but with Jay Cutler behind center, Vanderbilt made its run at a bowl game with offense.
Now, it's back to defense.
The Commodores are third in the SEC in total defense behind only LSU and Auburn, third in scoring defense and first in sacks. Vanderbilt has allowed the fewest touchdowns of any league team this season.
"They stymied us pretty good," Spurrier said this week. "They've got good athletes who play very hard and don't make hardly any errors in their coverages.
"It'll be interesting to see if Florida can run the ball against them."
Interesting is the word because Florida's best runner has a banged-up shoulder and it's tailback situation is up in the air. And a week after giving up six sacks against Georgia, the Gators go against a team with 12 sacks in its last two games.
So what happened at Vanderbilt? Simply put, Bobby Johnson saw the need for speed.
Like many coaches who come into the SEC from outside the conference, the quickness displayed by muscular men can take a coach by surprise. Especially when you don't have many of them.
So Johnson, now in his sixth year, started building a speedy defense.
"To do that, you have to be able to recruit," Johnson said. "You can't fix it with one year of recruiting.
"We probably have increased our speed on defense. We moved safeties to linebacker and linebackers to defensive ends to give us a chance to match up. Speed is the key thing in the SEC."
Johnson points to outside linebacker Marcus Buggs as an example. Buggs was a safety until he was shifted two seasons ago to linebacker. He leads Vanderbilt and is among the SEC leaders in tackles for a loss with nine.
Vandy will come at Tim Tebow with blitzes and won't make mistakes which means you have to be heady and patient as a quarterback.
"They have a really good defense," Tebow said. "They have had a lot of big games and can really shut down the offense."
The first Vanderbilt team Urban Meyer saw was certainly different than this year's. Last year, the defense had improved but two blocked punts by Florida helped the Gators pull out a win.
What Meyer sees on video this week is a team that can give an offense a difficult time.
"Their personnel has been upgraded," he said. "They have very talented cornerbacks. Their middle linebacker (Jonathan Goff) is one of the best in the conference.
"The first year, they had the best quarterback in college football but they were a little thin on defense. Now, they're right in the middle of the pack or in the top half of the SEC. They have NFL talent on that side of the ball. I don't believe that was the case two years ago."
The Commodores, according to Georgia coach Mark Richt, don't do anything crazy, but don't do anything stupid either.
"They're not hard to figure out," said Richt. "They have confidence in their personnel, that they can do their assignments without trying to trick you. They rarely get themselves in position where they are vulnerable to the deep ball. They make you drive it down the field."
The bottom line to all of this coachspeak is that Florida faces a tough challenge again this week against a team that has stifled other offenses.
It's never easy.
It's not supposed to be.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or email@example.com.
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