Notebook: Gators getting defensive help

Dylan Stonebraker watches as defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy signs an autograph during Fan Day in the O'Connell Center on Aug. 17.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.

Having to replace seven previous starters and playing the opener without two current starters, many were thinking the Florida defense might have a little bit of a bumpy start to the season against a multiple, hurry-up Toledo offense.

But it was pretty much a smooth debut, with the Gators limiting the Rockets to two field goals, 205 total yards and 12 first downs.

It’s even more impressive when you factor in that UF was without starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison and starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who is considered one of the defense’s best players.

“There were times (the defense) looked really good,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “Obviously, there are some things we need to clean up. I think our guys will continue to improve and get better.

“We’ve got some guys that are working in this week that we didn’t have last week. It’s the same thing. We’ve got to get out there and play team defense and play our style. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to do that.”

Morrison and Purifoy are returning Saturday after one-game suspensions. Neither is listed as a starter on the depth chart for Saturday’s game, but both are expected to see extensive playing time.

"I’m excited for (Morrison) to get back,” redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye said. “It's definitely a big addition to the team. He's an unbelievable linebacker, a great player, a hard-nosed guy. He knows the defense. He just adds more depth to the linebacker position, being a great player on the field for us."

The Gators seem equally excited about having Purifoy back playing in the secondary.

“Oh, it’s really big,” safety Cody Riggs said. “Loucheiz is a big part of our secondary and our chemistry. Having him back for this game is really big, especially with the weapons (the Hurricanes) have.”

Big day for Jones?

The UF offense also is getting a potential impact player back this week. No. 1 tailback Matt Jones is returning after missing all of preseason camp and the opener recovering from a viral infection.

Senior offensive lineman Kyle Koehne is predicting a big game for Jones on Saturday.

“As long as we come out and do what we do and do it right (on the offensive line), it should be an awesome debut for Matt Jones,” Koehne said. “He just brings a whole new style of running. He’s got power and he’s got the burst, so hopefully we can hit some more big ones.”

Nice debut for Ajagbe

A former defensive player had an impressive debut on offense in the opener. Former outside linebacker Gideon Ajagbe, now the No. 2 fullback, caught a touchdown pass and made another key first-down reception in the win over Toledo.

“Gideon's really been another good move for us to move him to fullback,” Muschamp said. “He showed you Saturday he catches the ball extremely well, blocks extremely well.

“He's been a huge addition for us. The thing about Gideon is he's got length. He can play the fullback position. He can also be a move tight end for us, which he didn't play as much Saturday because of Hunter (Joyer’s) situation. So, when Hunter gets back (hamstring), you're able to use Gideon as a slot, as a move guy that can create some leverage on formations, which is going to help you in the run game with what you're trying to do.

“Putting those two guys on the field together helps us a lot.”

Something has to give

One of the key battles Saturday will be Florida’s strong run defense trying to contain Miami tailback Duke Johnson, one of the nation’s most explosive offensive players.

Here’s an interesting fact: The Gators have given up only two runs of 50 yards or more in the last 10 years. Johnson, a true sophomore, has had six runs of 50 yards or longer in 13 games.

“Duke Johnson is an outstanding player. We recruited him here,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “The guy's got a great competitive nature to him. He's very similar to a Chris Rainey, but a bigger version of that. A guy that can full speed one cut and get the ball vertical and make people miss in space. He runs hard, runs tough and is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. He is an outstanding football player.”

Johnson will be facing a strong rush defense Saturday. The Gators gave up only 50 yards on the ground in the opener.

This and that

Florida will actually make money on its road trip to south Florida this weekend.

UF is set to receive a payoff of $460,000, while the school’s expenses, including the full marching band, is projected to total $258,450. … The Gators are looking to open the season 2-0 for the ninth season in a row. … UF is playing the ’Canes on the road for the first time since 2003. That was the game where the Hurricanes scored 28 unanswered points to rally for a 38-33 victory in the Orange Bowl in Ron Zook’s second season. … Florida's Jevon Kearse and Lindy Infante and Georgia's Matt Stinchcomb and Peter Anderson are the inductees for the Class of 2013 Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame, it was announced Thursday.

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