Did we overvalue UF's defense?


Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.

It was a theory a lot of us bought into in the preseason so I know I wasn't alone.

Florida had talent on defense. Will Muschamp built his reputation as a defensive coach. Ergo Florida will be a good defensive team.

The Gators will gobble up turnovers, stuff opponents and allow the offense to grow under Charlie Weis.

Right?

So did things go terribly wrong or did we overvalue this defense?

I tend to believe the latter.

In SEC games only, no team has given up as many first downs as Florida. The Gators rank eighth or worse in six defensive categories and have given up the second most touchdowns in SEC games behind only woeful Kentucky.

Certainly, playing two of the best teams in the country on back-to-back weeks will fluff up your defensive stats. But I'm not sure there are a lot of people wearing orange and blue glasses who believe this defense is about to turn the corner as Florida prepares to play at Auburn.

This may seem like a stretch, but at least a portion of the blame goes to John Brantley's ankle injury. Alabama in the second half and LSU for the entire game didn't feel a need to risk a whole lot because they knew the Gator offense wasn't going to generate a lot of points with true freshmen at quarterback. The two teams threw only 25 passes in those six quarters.

That may help explain why Florida hasn't gained a turnover since the Kentucky game, but that is just part of the defensive problem.

Let's start with the defensive line. Plenty of highly recruited players, but not much depth. As a result, players are wearing out in the fourth quarter. But there is also this — the big-time recruits have had only a couple of years in a college weight room. They are still not developed physically and it shows. The one guy who has been around for awhile — Jaye Howard — is playing the best of the defensive linemen.

As far as the linebackers go, it's hard to judge how they are playing when the defensive line isn't keeping blockers off of them. But we also can see that too many times they are bouncing backward when they are hit by running backs.

In the secondary, well, what would you expect from a secondary with two freshman starters? Pop Saunders blew the coverage on LSU's first touchdown. Marcus Roberson has sometimes looked like a kid right out of high school.

You add all of this up and it equates to a defense that is not good enough to help Florida reach its goals. Not now. Will it be this year? That's the big question. I think Florida's defense might be really good next year.

But with an offense that has scored 21 points in the last two games, the defense has to be exceptional.

It's not.

In fact, there is one statistic that is downright embarrassing for this defense.

Florida has allowed 13 first downs via penalty this year. No other team is close to that number. So it's not just the players' issue.

There have been signs of life for this defense. At LSU, after Florida was stopped on a fake punt, the defense held LSU. And then had to go right back on the field after LSU's fake punt and stopped the Tigers again.

You look at that and you look at the third quarter against Alabama, and you see signs that this defense has potential. But it has to be better at the start of the game (24 points allowed in the first quarter of the last two games), and it has to be more disciplined not just in terms of penalties but in terms of assignments.

I'm not trying to blame the defense for this two-game slide. I'm just one of those who believed this defense would be better, that Florida would be able to win games by doing just enough on offense.

Florida hasn't been able to do just enough on offense for the last six quarters. There's a chance it won't be able to do much in the next four.

We all know why. The defense — given the head coach's pedigree and the recruiting darlings on that side of the ball — is a little harder to understand.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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