UF defense needs takeaways


Florida safety Matt Elam (22) nearly intercepts a pass in front of Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers (21) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 17

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 10:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 10:07 p.m.

Florida came into the season with a simple, succinct and very appropriate theme for a defense that planned on piling up turnovers and big plays in 2011.

Fast and physical.

Play that way and those big, game-changing fumbles, interceptions and sacks will usually occur.

But it hasn't happened for the Gators.

They must not be playing fast and physical enough, because the turnovers and big plays are conspicuously absent on the Florida defense, especially during the Gators' current three-game SEC losing streak.




In the losses to Alabama, LSU and Auburn, the defense produced zero turnovers and only two sacks. The season totals are just as unimpressive: seven turnovers and 11 sacks in seven games.

Much has been made recently about the lack of playmakers on Florida's struggling offense. Well, no one on defense has stepped forward to make big plays, either.

“We need to get the turnovers back. We haven't had a turnover since the (Sept. 24) Kentucky game,” senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. “We have to get that back if we're going to be successful and give our offense a chance.

“We just need to go out there and play our style of defense.”

New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been placing an emphasis on creating turnovers since he first arrived in Gainesville last winter. He even conducted a one-hour clinic on turnovers and how to strip the ball at Will Muschamp's high school coaches' clinic in the spring.

Quinn pointed out to the high school coaches that the team that wins the turnover margin wins the game a high percentage of the time.

He used tape from NFL games to illustrate the art of stripping — how to do it and when to do it.

But Quinn's players at Florida apparently aren't up to speed on the art yet. The Gators have recovered only three fumbles this season.

Overall, the Gators have turnover margin of minus-7, which ranks last in the SEC.

“We've got to create some positive momentum for our team, whether it's on special teams or on defense,” Muschamp said. “We've got to continue limiting turnovers offensively and get some turnovers on defense.”

It's probably a must for the Gators to have any chance of upsetting No. 22 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday.

In the last three games in the rivalry — all Florida victories — the Gators won the turnover battle in a big way, a combined plus-11. In UF's last loss to Georgia, in 2007, the Gators lost the turnover battle 2-1.

Win the turnover margin, win the game. That's the way it's played out in the Florida-Georgia game.

Based on past performances this season, there's no reason to anticipate the Gators winning that key facet of the game Saturday.

They can't seem to create turnovers (or big plays).

“It's not a dip in confidence. It's the swagger,” Howard said. “When you get turnovers, when you create turnovers, your defense plays better. We have to get back to that.”

Even though the Gators had their struggles at times on defense a year ago, UF had plenty of playmakers on defense. UF scored six defensive touchdowns and intercepted 22 passes on the season.

Strong safety Ahmad Black was one of the biggest playmakers on the team (offense or defense). He intercepted five passes, recovered two fumbles, had 11 tackles for losses and a sack.

This year's defense doesn't have an Ahmad Black. At least not yet.

“We need that,” junior middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “Matt Elam is one of those guys (who is capable). Every time he's around the football, he's trying to get it out some way, some how.

“I have to admit I can do a better job trying to strip the ball. It's something I've been working on.”

The Gators are trying to create turnovers. Has it gotten to the point that they're trying too hard instead of just letting them come naturally as a result of fast and physical play?

“Turnovers kind of just come,” Bostic said. “You have to keep playing hard and working on ways to turn the ball over. They're going to come to us.”

The big question is: when?

Quinn said the recent trend — zero turnovers in the last three games — is unacceptable.

“No excuses,” Quinn said. “We've got to get the football. It's something we address with everybody each day.”

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

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