It’s an important aspect of the game that will never be found on the stat sheet, but football coaches, especially defensive coordinators, stress it and talk about it all the time.
How is your defense going to handle it, respond to it, when the offense has just turned the ball over and put your players in a difficult situation that ultimately could determine the outcome of a game?
“We actually have that as a part of our game plan,” Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We always say, ‘Go put the fire out.’ That’s part of our don’t flinch mentality.
“Whatever situation you’re dealt with, go make a play and go handle the situation.”
The Gators have proven to be adept firefighters this season. It’s reflective in this stat: UF’s 12 turnovers have been turned into only 16 total points by the opposition.
In the win over Auburn last Saturday, the UF defense was putting out fires all over the field thanks to four lost fumbles, three by quarterback Kyle Trask.
Sudden change No. 1: Early in the first quarter, blitzing Auburn defensive back Christian Tutt has a sack/fumble that is recovered by defensive back Chandler Wooten on the UF 39. But the Gators don’t flinch, forcing a three-and-out and making the Tigers settle for a 48-yard field goal. Fire extinguished.
Sudden change No. 2: On UF’s next possession, running back Dameon Pierce takes a hard blow to the head from linebacker K.J. Britt and fumbles as he’s going down. The ball is recovered by AU defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell on the UF 44. After giving up one first down, the Gators get a stop, with safety Jeawon Taylor and linebacker David Reese stuffing running back Jatarvious Whitlow for no gain on a third-and-two from UF’s 21. Auburn has to settle for another field goal. Fire out.
Sudden change No. 3: On the final play of the first quarter, Trask is sacked and fumbles again and defensive tackle Derrick Brown scoops it up and returns it 42 yards to the UF 35. On first down, linebacker James Houston nails Anthony Schwartz for a four-yard loss on a jet sweep. On the next play, safety Shawn Davis breaks on a Bo Nix pass on the left sideline, makes a one-handed interception and returns it 41 yards. Fire extinguished and another started (for the AU defense).
Sudden change No. 4: Early in the fourth quarter, on a second-and-12 from the AU 20, Trask is sacked by Brown, fumbles and Brown picks it up and returns it 11 yards to the AU 40. After the Tigers pick up one first down, defensive end Zachary Carter sacks a scrambling, stumbling Nix for a 22-yard loss back to the Auburn 42, taking Auburn out of field goal range. The Tigers punt. Fire out.
Had the Florida defense not responded like it did, the Tigers could have turned those four fumbles into 28 points. Instead, they got just six, and the Gators went on to win 24-13.
“We always talk about putting the fire out,” Grantham said. “I think our guys have embraced that and they’ve accepted the challenge on that.”
They definitely have.
“The mentality is just put the ball down anywhere you want to put it down,” Reese said. “We try to defend every blade of grass that we can defend. So, just put the ball down. That’s our mentality, just knowing that we’ve got our backs to the wall and we can fight out of any situation. We take pride in that.”
And they work at it. Defensive end/outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon said that at every Wednesday practice a segment is devoted to putting the defense in difficult situations to see how the players respond.
“It’s a mindset,” Moon said. “In your mind, you draw a line and they can’t get past it.”
Then the fire goes out.