Missed tackles. Potentially costly penalties down the stretch. An inability to adjust early.
While the Gators escaped with a 24-20 victory over Miami in the season opener, Florida’s defensive issues were vast and varied.
One could easily attribute the miscues and mistakes to the multitude of factors surrounding the game: the early start to the season, the national attention, the fresh faces, etc.
For the Gators, the list goes on — yet, according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the buck stops here.
Florida is using the early break to clean up much of the sloppiness that spilled over from Camping World Stadium before the Gators return to action Sept. 7 against The University of Tennessee at Martin.
“The biggest thing when you watch the game is, obviously we’ve got to improve our tackling on the edge, and it’s really down to angles, just running through guys and those kind of things,” Grantham said. “I think the next thing is, we’ve really got to make sure that we make good choices throughout the game when the ball’s snapped, whether it’s with our eyes and what we have to do.”
If it looked as if the Gators missed an unusually high amount of tackles Saturday, the statistics certainly backed up that assumption.
The Gators missed 21 tackles against Miami, up from an average of just six per game over the final month of the 2018 season.
Although the team’s next opponent lacks the skill position talent of the ’Canes, there’s clearly an emphasis across the board on wrapping up the opposition.
“I think it’s just we all got to do better. We’ve got to coach better and they’ve got to play better. There’s always a balance in practice of getting guys ready and prepared and keeping guys healthy,” Grantham said. “We made some plays in space. You watch, there were some good tackles. It’s just that when you’re in space like that for 80-some plays, seven to 10 plays can get noticed, and those are the ones we’ve got to get better at. It’s really more about leverage, eye control, don’t stop your feet, understand where your target is, continue to go through your target, run through your target, wrap and squeeze and then get the guy down. it’s not like you’ve got to thud the guy and kill it.”
Where Florida didn’t struggle was tackling the wide receiver — sometimes before the ball arrived, or after the play had ended. As the Gators looked to escape with a four-point victory, UF’s defense couldn’t get off the field due to drive-extending infractions. Consecutive penalties on fourth down kept Miami’s hopes alive until the final two minutes, leading coach Dan Mullen to remark he’d “aged 10 years in the final five minutes” of Saturday’s contest.
Many quickly attributed the penalties to a lack of composure, or an inability to step up in the moment. Those reactions? A bit of an emotional response, as Grantham simply attributed the blunders to incorrect form.
“You have a fourth-and-34, obviously if you let the guy catch the ball, it’s over. So we’ve got to coach that better, and they’ve got to execute better, so we’ll all do better at that,” Grantham said. “You’ve got to understand your leverage, and that goes back to the choices with your eyes, understand that you maintain your proper eye control, that allows you to maintain your leverage. And then choices — you’ve got to understand there’s a sideline, when the guy’s out of bounds, you can’t hit him. So that’s pretty basic.”
Overall, however, Florida’s defense left a strong impression. The 10 sacks, the most by an SEC team since 2008, prevented the ’Canes from establishing an offensive flow, and UF’s coverage downfield limited Miami’s opportunities downfield.
Florida’s season-opening win asserted there’s strong attributes already in place in the team’s defense — now, the focus turns to supplementing the other facets.
“In the second half we played much better from the standpoint of they had under 100 yards of total offense and I don’t think they completed a third down or fourth down in the second half, and we played plays better in the second half than we did the first half,” Grantham said. “That goes to your sideline adjustments, sideline communication, the players listening and understanding what’s getting ready to happen. Anytime a team is successful on you with a play, they’re probably going to come back to it, and you’ve got to be ready for it. Those are the things we’ll build on and continue to work hard to get better at being a better team.”
Who: Tennessee-Martin (0-0) vs. No. 8 Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: ESPNU/SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850