Grantham focused on cleaning up Gators’ defensive miscues

Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon tries to tackle Miami running back DeeJay Dallas at the Camping World Kickoff at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on August 24. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

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.”

Up next

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


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. I pity the fool who misses even one tackle against Tenn-Martin. Kentucky will be watching, I assure you.

    Great and timely article, Graham — thanks for getting to the nugs of this, from the horses mouth.

      • I don’ think he played well at all last year. He got burned more times than a 5 year old playing with matches. And before you respond that he was a freshman, remember that
        Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Vernon Hargreaves, and Teez Tabor all started as freshman, and played very well. As for who to replace him with, I don’t know but may not be any worse.

        • My recollection of Dean last year is that in coverage, he was usually in position, but quite often failed to turn and play the ball. I seem to recall complaining about that to the TV, but it really didn’t help.

          • Hey Joe — next time try spittin’ a wad of Redman at the TV, works every time for me. I could tell, because last time I did it the damn thing shorted out, I had to go to Walmart and get a new one, it took hours to set it up and I missed the game. Oh, and the lovely Gator-3 made me sleep on the couch. But it did work, I tell ya’… morning I read in the paper that the Gators won the game!

          • Oh no! If I chewed Redman, it’d be more like blowin’ chunks at the TV. I guess I could try Big League Chew, but that’s probably off the market for leading kids to use tobacco, sorta like those candy cigars we used to have as kids. Mean ol’ Big Tobacco! Anyway, I have always wanted to go to bed with the game hopelessly lost, only to wake up in the morning and find the Gators pulled it out. By gum, if we can’t get people to post about the games, maybe we can get ’em to complain about our humor!

  2. Basic fundamentals such as tackling should never be an issue in the first game. Makes me wonder what the heck they worked on in camp. if you can’t tackle, what else is left to do? I don’t think it is a youth thing. I am sure the players tackled in high school. I agree that some think that a hit is enough. Not at this level. I trust that Grantham will get things turned around in time. Go Gators!

    • Ocala, that’s one of the contradictions of modern day major college and pro football. The players have gotten so big, strong and fast that real tackling in practice can lead to real injuries. So coaches minimize it, assuming it’s “like riding a bicycle,” until it isn’t. The good news is that, just like the penalties, it can be remedied in practice, now that the players were embarrassed on national TV.

      Those that don’t improve in those two areas over the next couple of weeks can expect to spend some quality time acquainting themselves with the bench because Tennessee Martin and Kentucky don’t scare anybody. It’s pointless to be big, fast and strong if you don’t tackle the other guy when you get there, or let the other team off the hook through pure lack of poise and discipline.

      • After watching nearly about everybody on earth play yesterday, despite a houseful of grandkids who were busy tearing my home apart while I did (a small price to pay)…..I have come to the conclusion once and for all that we MUST find a quarterback muy pronto, stat, asap, post haste, immediately if not sooner, like right now. It can be Franks, it can be Jones, it can be Trask or anybody who might walk on — but this has got to be solved once and for all.

      • StL, it’s interesting that you bring up the players being “so big, strong, and fast” as a cause of injuries. Many point to S&C as a way to help avoid injuries, and I think there’s merit to that, especially as it relates to strengthening muscles around joints and ligaments. On the other hand, you’ve correctly pointed out that collisions between bigger, faster, and stronger athletes generate a lot more energy that can be potentially destructive. Seems like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. One thing’s for certain, though, if you don’t, you’ll be left behind.

        • True that Joe! Physics is an unforgiving science. I should know since I’m an engineer. Better to save most of our D’s kinetic energy to unload on our opponents’ bodies in real games than waste it on our O’s bodies in practice.

  3. 6, the Gators won 9 games and a NY-6 bowl last season with Franks still learning CDM’s play book. They can do at least as well this season, provided that over the next 4 weeks the OL gets their run blocking act together and the D figures out they MUST tackle and control their emotions.

    I’ve watched CDM operate long enough now to realize he doesn’t change QBs once the season begins, unless it’s forced on him by injury. He’s not likely to bench Franks. He’ll just coach around Franks’ obvious deficiencies, which as I’ve mentioned many times before are NOT going away because he’s incapable of thinking fast, as all QBs at this level are expected to do. And CDM can’t teach him THAT!

    Last night, Auburn confirmed my preseason suspicions with their solid D and excellent running game against a very good Oregon squad. With Kentucky looking weak and Tennessee looking pathetic, this Gator season (like last season) will be defined by the back-to-back games vs. the SEC West and those hated little Dawggies.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • Indeed you have mentioned this before, STL. But watching other QBs opened my eyes more, and with this team’s talent right now, we could potentially go to Atlanta. Unless he costs us too much to get there. I’m more than willing for it to be Franks, but were it up to me, this shyt ends now or else we get somebody in there who can. That’s how high I think the stakes are this year, vs last year. What say you?

      • Frankly 6, even though I agree the stakes are high this season, we’re stuck with Franks now, UNLESS he gets hurt. I just don’t see CDM benching him in favor of one of the other two guys. Trask is not as athletic as Franks and has proven to be more fragile than a porcelain doll. And Jones appears to be taking much longer to learn the QB position at this level than anybody anticipated, including CDM.

        Last Saturday, I sat next to an unusually polite Cane fan at the game in Orlando. We went back and forth razzing each other as the lead changed hands 5 time. Late in the 3rd quarter, after another of Franks’ bonehead plays, I turned and jokingly offered him to trade our RS Jr. QB to his Canes straight up for their RS Fr. QB. He laughed out loud and turned me down flat!

        THAT pretty much sums up where the Gators stand at the QB position today. At least Franks is not as bad as Dismal Driskel! YIKES!!!

        This too shall pass. Or, is it just gas???

        • Not doubting your analysis of CDM’s tendencies, but didn’t he name Trask the starter for the USCe game after the homecoming debacle against Mizzou? Of course, the porcelain doll thing prevented that start from actually happening.

          • Joe, in my humble opinion, the situation surrounding the Mizzou game last year is the exception that proves the rule. Franks didn’t just have a bad game vs. the Tigers, he had a full blown meltdown.

            CDM is a coach’s coach. He can accept mistakes from his young QBs and help them correct them. What he can’t accept is a complete loss of poise from the player responsible for leading his offense.

            Trask’s injury in practice the following week was a fortuitous turn of events for Franks. It took the pressure off him and allowed him to get his act together psychologically. While his play since then has been less than stellar, he’s maintained his composure after every screw up and come back to lead successful drives and now five straight wins.

            That composure is why I believe CDM won’t bench Franks now. However, should he melt down like that again, CDM will have a very tough decision to make.

            As Gator fans, let’s hope THAT doesn’t happen!

        • I’m taking gas pills, STL, so I don’t mistake heartburn over Franks with gas — so bear with me even tho I did chow down on an enchilada dinner last nite!

          I take your point, but I would say that Jones is more of an unknown versus not ready. Cody Alan has been to fall camp apparently, and he’s not saying much other than holding his breath on Franks like the rest of us. I trust Mullen, but at the same time, I can see a potentially great season slipping away due to our QB. I am more worried about that than the OL, of and by itself.

          • 6, I can only take CDM and Stricklin at their words when they both claimed after the Cane game that this is a better Gator squad than we had last year at this time and that Franks is a better QB than he was last year at this time.

            Stricklin actually made a very valid point when he compared this game to last year’s Kentucky game. He said the Gators (and Franks) were turnover prone and sloppy in both games against roughly equally good opponents. They had two fewer weeks of practice this year and played this game at a neutral site instead of the Swamp. Yet, the Gators WON this game while they lost last year. THAT’s how Stricklin measures year over year improvement.

            I must admit he’s hard to argue against. 😉

  4. 6 – I am with you. Why do, year after year, QBs from opposing teams just look better then ours? Why do frosh QBs for lesser teams show all kinds of talent (And maturity) yet we write ours off as being freshman who can’t play. FF has physical skills and lots of tangibles, but my eyes tell me that he is not one who can take us to the promised land. Why couldn’t Emory Jones also go 17-24 for 254 yds against Miami? Or Trask? It is not like they would fail to complete a pass. They surely wouldn’t ham it up with TV cameras and fans in the front rows. FF should face the same standard as other players, perform or sit. I hope he performs (and matures) but he has been here a long time and throwing 70 yds or 100mph bullets are not the only talents we need right now…