UF defense faces yet another dual-threat challenge


Florida players Antonio Morrison, left, and Sharrif Floyd, center, chase after Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel during the second half against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, on Sept. 8.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 12:23 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Florida's dominant defense has done many good things this season. One thing it has done best is disarm explosive quarterbacks.

The Gators shut down Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel like no one else could all season, limiting him to a mere 55 total yards in the second half (36 passing, 19 rushing).

They frustrated Tennessee's Tyler Bray, intercepting him twice and limiting him to 22 completions in 44 attempts.

They dogged South Carolina's Connor Shaw so badly (72 yards passing on only nine completions in 20 attempts) that Steve Spurrier benched him in the second half.

They made Georgia's Aaron Murray look below average for one of the few times in his illustrious career, intercepting him three times and holding him to 150 yards passing.

They knocked FSU's EJ Manuel out of the game in a 37-26 victory that earned the Gators a trip to the Sugar Bowl, where they will face another major quarterback challenge in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has studied all those Florida defensive performances on tape and can offer a very plausible explanation for the Gators' success against good quarterbacks this season.

“No. 1, they have great talent,” Watson said. “All across the board, and they have depth besides talent. That tends to lead to success. What they do schematically is very good.

“I know they highlight players. They've got excellent players in every level of the defense — first, second and third level. They play a style that really makes it tough. They can rush four guys. They don't have to put a lot of pressure on you because they're so good up front.

“They have lockdown people in the back end. Their safeties are good cover players. Their linebackers can cover. They have every piece defensively you could ever want.”

The Gators are No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency defense and have given up only five touchdown passes this season, second fewest in college football. UF has intercepted 19 passes and opponents are averaging a mere 5.42 yards per pass attempt.

Those are potential nightmare numbers for any quarterback.

“Quarterbacks that play against them make a lot of impulse decisions,” Bridgewater said. “You just have to take what they will give you.”

They don't give up much.

The most passing yards the Gators have given up in a game this season is only 257. Despite playing against some of the best quarterbacks in the country (Manziel, Bray, Murray), the defense was not really lit up by a single one.

Now, it's Bridgewater's turn to try.

The Gators certainly respect what he can do. He's thrown for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions, and he has a knack for making big, critical plays with his arm and his legs. He hasn't rushed for many yards (43, with one touchdown), but he's another dual-threat quarterback the Gators will have to try and contain.

“No. 1, we've got to get him off his spot (in the pocket),” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Any quarterback who feels comfortable and can get into a rhythm is going to be tough to beat. That's really true in this case.

“His accuracy is the thing that shows out. If he doesn't get rushed and get affected, it gets hard (to defend him).”

Senior safety Josh Evans said the defense has studied extensive tape of Bridgewater and will be prepared for whatever he throws at the Gators. He said that's been the approach with every opposing quarterback this season.

“We've done more film study than since I've been here,” Evans said. “That's a consideration as for how the games (have gone against good quarterbacks). We'll be able to read what (Bridgewater) is doing, have an idea where he's going with the ball, his tendencies.

“As a defensive back, you want to make sure you're precise on the angle you take when breaking on the ball.”

All-American safety Matt Elam said the success against good quarterbacks starts up front, with the defensive line.

“Our D-line is so good, and our depth is so good with everybody coming in and making plays,” Elam said. “It starts with our D-line, and our linebackers can put pressure on the quarterback. It starts up front.”

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said Quinn and the defensive staff will put the players in a position to have success against Bridgewater and a potent UL passing game that is averaging 374.8 yards a game in the last five games.

“Each week, it has been the game plan for each quarterback that we've played,” Floyd said. “It was just in the game plan. We executed what was called.

“If I had to compare (Bridgewater) to someone, it would be Manziel from Texas A&M, just because of his elusiveness and the threat to run and pass.”

After getting burned pretty badly by Manziel in the first half, the Gators adjusted at halftime and frustrated the future Heisman Trophy winner by rushing under control and staying in lanes to prevent him from breaking out of the pocket and making plays.

UF may take a similar approach against Bridgewater.

“There are a lot of things he can do,” Floyd said. “We're going to have to come out with our cleats tight. We have to keep him in the pocket, keep him where we want him and not where he wants to be.”

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

DISARMING QUARTERBACKS

Player School Comp.-Att.-INT Yards TDs

Johnny Manziel Texas A&M 23-30-0 173 0

Tyler Bray Tennessee 22-44-2 257 2

Connor Shaw South Carolina 9-20-0 72 0

Aaron Murray Georgia 12-24-3 150 1

EJ Manuel Florida State 18-33-3 187 1

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