Gators look to dial up pressure vs. Vols


Florida's Ronald Powell sacks FAU quarterback David Kooi during the first half in Gainesville on Saturday, September 3, 2011.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.

Poring over a copy of Florida's season statistics, some big numbers really jump out. Like the 40 points a game and the 490 total yards a game and the 497 total rushing yards in two games.

But one very small number also leaps off the page.

Two.

That's the grand total of sacks the Gator defense has produced in two games. It's a disappointing number, for sure. And, this week, a scary one, because Florida is facing the hottest passer in football (other than Tom Brady) in The Swamp on Saturday.




Strong-armed Tennessee sophomore Tyler Bray is coming off a game in which he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and completed a school-record 82.9 percent of his passes in a 45-23 victory over Cincinnati. He's already piled up 698 passing yards, the most ever by a UT quarterback (and that includes the legendary Peyton Manning) in the first two games of a season.

The kid is red hot.

And chances are excellent he will stay that way if the Gators can't come up with a considerably stronger pass rush than they showed in the first two games.

If the Gators can't get to Bray and throw him off his game a little bit, some very big and unpleasant numbers likely will jump off the Florida stat sheet come Saturday night.

“It's very important. We've got to get to the quarterback,” middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “The last game (against UAB), the quarterback was getting the ball out quickly. We've still got to find a way to get back there. The D-linemen want to get after it and get their sacks.”

In the 39-0 win over UAB last Saturday, the defense produced some pressure, but no sacks. The two sacks came in the opener against FAU, whose approach was much like FAU's — lots of quick passes to avoid the rush and big, negative plays.

The game changes this Saturday. Bray is a confident and classic drop-back passer. He'll stand in the pocket and look for speedy wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers down the field.

If Bray has time and is feeling comfortable in the pocket Saturday, he could inflict serious damage on a young Florida secondary that features two true freshman starters (cornerback Marcus Roberson and safety De'Ante “Pop” Saunders).

“Getting a pass rush is very important,” safety Josh Evans said. “We've watched a lot of film on how (Bray) is under pressure and against tight zones. So, we're going to try and get after him.”

One way to get pressure is to blitz, something the Gators have done only minimally in the first two games. UF may open the defensive playbook more Saturday. But blitzing comes with risks, especially against a good passer throwing to playmaking wide receivers.

UF coach Will Muschamp, a defensive specialist, sounds like he would like the pressure to come from a safer and more conventional source — the defensive line.

“We need to get pressure with four guys rushing,” he said. “That's the best pass defense in America. We need to rush four guys and do a better job at that.”

The Gators are confident they can, mainly because standout end/tackle Sharrif Floyd is returning this week after being ineligible for the first two games.

“He's going to help out a lot,” Bostic said. “He's one of those big, strong guys who can change the line of scrimmage and still get to the quarterback.”

As concerned as the Gators are about Bray and the UT passing game, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley seems equally worried about how his young offensive line is going to match up against the UF defensive front.

“The first thing you notice is they probably have the most talented defensive line in the country,” Dooley said. “They're extremely big and athletic and disruptive, and almost impossible to block.

“If your five can't block their four, it doesn't matter what plays you have, it's going to be a long day.

“Schematically, they were able to be very vanilla because of the nature of the two football games they've played. I don't think we've seen near what we might see on Saturday. Ultimately, it's going to come down to whether or not we can handle them up front.”

Muschamp has been saying since he took the Florida job that the SEC is a line of scrimmage league, that this is where games are won and lost. Well, the SEC season is now here for the Gators and Vols. Time to start finding out who's better up front.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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