Impact day for UF defense

Florida Gators defensive lineman Darious Cummings (55) celebrates intercepting a pass with teammates defensive lineman Damien Jacobs (4) and defensive lineman Dominique Easley (2) during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday Sept. 21, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated Tennessee 31-17. (Matt Stamey/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 10:30 p.m.

Florida coach Will Muschamp criticized his defense following the loss to Miami for its poor performance to start the game and challenged his players to improve.

They answered the call in Saturday’s 31-17 win over Tennessee.

“They’re a competitive bunch,” Muschamp said of his defensive unit. “They also understand when it’s right and when it’s not right, and they understood we did not (start) very well at Miami.”

The Vols’ first three possessions of the game all ended in turnovers, and they were shut out offensively in the first half.

The first two turnovers were forced fumbles by defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., one of which he recovered as well. The sophomore said he and his teammates took Muschamp’s message to heart.

“He challenged us a lot. Our defense, we take pride in it and take it very seriously,” Fowler said. “We just felt like we could have done something to prevent (Miami) from scoring. If they don’t score, we win. So we came out today with a bitter taste in our mouth and a big chip on our shoulder to just go out there and play Florida D.”

Junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings, who had the fourth first-half turnover for UF, said starting fast against the Vols was the top priority.

“That was the whole focus — to be more sound and to make sure everything was perfect,” he said. “We felt insulted at Miami because that’s not the best we can play. I feel like we made a statement today.”

The Gators held Tennessee to just 31 yards of offense on 25 plays in the first half. With starting quarterback Jeff Driskel leaving the game (fractured fibula) and UF having three turnovers of its own before halftime, the defense’s play early on couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It kept us in the ball game,” Muschamp said. “It let us catch our breath a little bit. Obviously sudden change is a part of the game, and we’ve certainly done it too much. But our guys know they better respond when they get put in those situations.

“We can be the difference in every game if we play the way we’re capable of playing.”

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