Against Arkansas, we see where UF defense stands


Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (6) celebrates with defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (90) after a sack against Kentucky during the second half at Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 28 in Lexington, Ky. Fowler leads the team with three sacks.

Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.

Through four games, it has been stupid good, a statistical wonder that makes eyebrows raise in a conference suddenly flush with offense.

Facts

Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0), 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN2
RADIO: AM-850, 103.7 FM

Florida's defense leads the SEC in every category except targeting ejections and anyone who has watched these Gators play understands how good this defense has been, so good that we mumble under our breaths about whether it might be one of the best ever at UF.

I can give you all kinds of numbers, but by now you've probably taken time to look at the SEC and national statistics. Here's another one for you that I worked on this week before realizing it was already in Florida's notes for the media (me = dummy) — Florida's opponents have had 21 three-and-outs in 44 drives.

That's simply ridiculous and it's a big reason Will Muschamp doesn't have a problem running a conservative offense. Some of that is because of Tyler Murphy, but Muschamp believes his defense will keep giving him the ball back and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

It's funny how we wondered in the preseason if this defense would take a big step back. After all, it was losing all three starting linebackers, its best defensive lineman and both safeties.

But so far, it has been better than a year ago.

“I think anytime you want to be good defensively, No. 1, you better be into tackling,” Muschamp said. “I think we've tackled well. I think you gotta be able to play blocks up front. I think we have guys that play blocks up front. Then, from there, you need to be able to be multiple enough to play man and zone concepts and pick times to pressure. We've been able to rush four guys.

“So, I think any time you're able to rush four guys and get and generate pressure and affect the quarterback, it's gonna give you a chance to be pretty successful defensively because you can't make a living pressuring all the time and bringing five and six guys. Eventually, good teams are gonna be able to go outside and win against you, so we've been able to get pressure with four, so all those things kind of combined have certainly helped us defensively this year.”

It's important to note that this defense has been excellent so far.

The first third of the season is over. It's in the middle third where we'll find out how good it really is.

That starts tonight with the game against Arkansas, a team that wants to punch Florida in the mouth. It will be interesting to see how these Gators respond and how much fuel can be delivered by a wild and crazy crowd with its first all-day-to-tailgate game in what feels like a decade.

And it's not going to get any easier.

Three of the top four scoring teams in the SEC are on the horizon.

LSU and it's balanced attack awaits in Baton Rouge. The mystery team of the SEC, Missouri, will be next in Columbia, Mo., and it leads the league in rushing and is second in points (albeit against a schedule softer than a feather pillow stuffed with marshmallows). Georgia, has, well, you know what Georgia has.

So we're about to find out just how good this Florida defense is.

“I think so,” Muschamp said. “I think starting with Arkansas, we haven't faced anybody that's had the physicality that they're gonna play with on the offensive line, the quality of backs or the matchups outside. We need to play well on the edges, we're gonna need to tackle well and play blocks, but we haven't played a team with the physicality that they play with.”

It's about to get interesting around here after the melodrama of September. Especially for the defense.

I'm not trying to take anything away from what the defense did in its first four games. It kept the Gators in the game against Miami and again when the offense was struggling against Tennessee. It didn't let Kentucky even dream of an upset.

Those were fine efforts, especially last week when the defense was dealing with the demoralizing loss of Dominique Easley.

But it's from this point forward that we see if this is a defense that is elite and special or just good. There isn't a pundit around this league that points to any team but Florida when asked to name the SEC's best defense.

But the season is far from over. If this defense continues at this pace, it can still be a special season. But that means doing it against better offenses than it has faced so far in the first third.

And it starts tonight.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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