UF defenders out to force issue


Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 8:57 p.m.

Much of Florida’s motivation this season has been provided by what happened last season — all those losses, all those miserable memories, especially from that dreary, winless October that saw the Gators plunge off a cliff.

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Georgia's Michael Bennett makes the catch for a touchdown during the first half against Florida at Everbank Field in Jacksonville on Oct. 29, 2011.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer

The Gators have been feeding off those 2011 memories all season.

Of all the motivating events, last year’s Georgia game ranks way up there. From a defensive perspective, it is No. 1 on the hit list for exacting revenge.

The final October act was a low point for the defense.

Not only did the Gators give up two fourth-down touchdown passes, they failed to wrest the ball away from the Bulldogs in the final 5:32 of the game with a chance to win trailing only 24-20.

Defensive tackle Dominique Easley said he’s been watching the defensive tape from that game every night this week.

“Especially the fourth quarter,” he said. “It’s like you’re going to watch a video clip of you getting punched in your face over and over again. You’re going to get mad every time you watch it.

“It’s like somebody kicked me in my jock.”

The two fourth-down TD passes were game-changing. The final Georgia drive to kill the clock was the death blow.

“It was certainly a low point for me (in the season),” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “When you look back at it, we had chances to win the game and when you don’t, it eats at you for a long time. Certainly, the number of times we’ve seen that sequence of plays, during this week especially, it’s hard.

“We had a chance to make a stop and give us a chance to win the game and we weren’t able to get that done. That certainly was one for us in terms of winning the line of scrimmage. We weren’t able to.

“As you know here, how important that is for us and how we do it, so we’re certainly looking forward to the challenge.”

It was a test of manhood in that final 5:32, and the Gators failed it.

But maybe they would not have been in that position in the first place if not for those two fourth-down TD passes earlier in the game.

The first came with only 1:28 remaining in the half and the Gators leading 17-3. On a fourth-and-five, Aaron Murray lofted a pass to Michael Bennett in the left corner of the end zone that Bennett caught over safety De’Ante Saunders for a 20-yard TD play. Saunders had tight coverage, but was outjumped for the ball.

The second came midway through the third quarter, when Tavarres King caught a 14-yard TD pass over cornerback Jaylen Watkins on a fourth-and-six play. Like Saunders, Watkins had King tightly covered, but King made a play and Watkins didn’t.

“Those were the deciding factors in the game,” Quinn said. “We had a chance to make a play on the ball and didn’t. Both those are what we call a 50-50 ball, where they had a chance to make a play and we weren’t able to come up with it in both cases.”

Watkins said his failure to make a play in that situation helped him refocus over the last half of last season — and motivate him for this season, especially this game.

“I’ve been using those as a motivation factor,” Watkins said. “I’m sure Pop Saunders has, too. Those are plays that really changed the game last year. It was left on the secondary and we didn’t make them. This year, we really need to make those plays.

“It adds more motivation to make plays. It just shows how two plays can change a whole game. That makes it more motivating for us.

Watkins said if he finds himself in a similar situation Saturday, he’s confident he’ll make the play this time.

“I just didn’t turn my head around quick enough (on last year’s play),” he said. “I didn’t trust myself to make a play on the ball.

“But I definitely worked past that this year. I trust myself to make that play.”

Quinn said the secondary as a whole is more experienced and better equipped to make those plays.

“We’ve worked hard in terms of playing technique and that kind of thing,” he said. “Just more experience. You learn from tough experiences.”

There were, and still are, plenty of those to go around from last season.

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

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