Dooley: Run defense the key

Published: Monday, October 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 12:03 a.m.

This is the easy part.

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LSU's Charles Scott is stopped for no gain during the third quarter on Saturday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

"We have to stop the run."

Then comes the hard part.

Doing it.

Any defensive coordinator can say he wants to stop the running game of the opponent. Any head coach can talk about making a team one-dimensional. Any defensive player can talk about the importance of shutting down the SEC's leading rusher.

But to do it is another story.

Because to do it, you need a lot of things to happen.

You have to have a plan, execute it and make tackles.

Florida did it to perfection on Saturday night in The Swamp. They limited Charles Scott, who was leading the conference in rushing, to 17 yards on 16 carries before a meaningless 18-yard run on the game's final play. They forced LSU to throw the ball and then brought pressure.

That run defense was a big part of why Florida won by 30 points and the Gator Nation is giddy again.

"We weren't going to let them run that ball," Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "That's the way we go into every game."

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not.

In the two games in which Florida has given up more than 100 rushing yards there were different reasons, Strong said. Against Ole Miss (140 yards) it was poor tackling. Against Arkansas (141 yards), it was the offense.

"Against the spread, it's hard to put an extra guy in the box," he said. "And Brandon Spikes didn't play well. He was letting people block him."

In Florida's other four games, the totals are dominating 118 carries, 297 yards, 2.5 yards per carry.

"When we start game-planning on Sundays, that's the first thing we're looking at," Strong said. "How do we stop the run?"

Again, it's one thing to say it and another to do it. One of the theories behind the predictions that LSU would win the game was that Florida's defensive line would be blocked by LSU's mammoth offensive line.

Didn't happen.

So how did Florida do it?

Let's call this "Anatomy of a Run-Stuffing Defense."

Florida has two defenses designed to stop the run but the principle is the same in both of them add a man near the line of scrimmage. If it's a man-to-man defense, that player is strong safety Ahmad Black. If it's zone, that player is the cornerback to the open side of the field.

The theory is to have more defenders than the opponent has blockers. But this theory only works if players stay in their gaps. If they get moved out of those gaps or jump out of them, a long run is sure to follow.

"That's the real danger of putting eight in the box," Strong said. "If it breaks the line of scrimmage, it's going to be a big gain. But we've been doing this for a long time so our guys understand how important it is to stay in their gaps. These linebackers know where they have to fit. And we spend a lot of time in practice working on it live so that by the time they get into the game, they've had plenty of examples of what they have to do."

Because Florida's line can be undersized (depending on the personnel), Strong and the Gator defensive staff put in a new wrinkle by having players sometimes shoot to their gaps rather than line up in them.

"We're not very big so we can't just stand there," he said. "We moved a lot."

With eight in the box, the cornerbacks know they are going to be playing a lot of man-to-man coverage and the plan to stop the run won't work if receivers are running open.

Which goes back to the most important part of the plan to stop the run.

It's no good if players don't play well.

"They filled every gap," Strong said of his defenders. "They played gap-sound football. (Lawrence) Marsh and (Terron) Sanders played really well. And that's what it comes down to. The game plan doesn't matter if your guys don't play well."

But they did.

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