Gators back to work on defense

Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Donaven Tennyson catches a pass against Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

As Vanderbilt receivers continued to pop open in The Swamp last Saturday, some natural assumptions were being made.

One, with all those freshmen playing, youth is finally catching up to the Florida Gators in the secondary.

Two, the UF linebackers are solid against the run, but do not appear to have the same grasp when it comes to covering receivers, especially on those crossing routes.

Three, quarterback Kyle Shurmur and his receivers are a whole lot better than they showed in a 59-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama the week before.

All three of those things were contributing factors. But they were not the main factor. That distinction belongs to something else.

Coaching and preparation are what led to the Gators’ downfall in the secondary, according to UF coach Jim McElwain.

“(Vanderbilt) did a good job with their plan,” McElwain said. “Obviously, (offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) does an outstanding job. Have known him a long time. They found some weaknesses. They did a good job isolating their little option route on our linebackers.

“I don’t think we did a great job in the film-study piece with what our defensive staff gave our guys. Some of the clues immediately based on formation, I’m not sure we did a great job communicating that. They took advantage of it. They did a really good job of that and we’re going to have to get that cleaned up this week.”

It was alarming how open the Vandy receivers were getting at times. On Shurmur’s three touchdown passes, the receivers (Kalija Lipscomb, Caleb Scott and Nathan Marcus) were all alone in the end zone each time.

Shurmur was especially efficient throwing the ball down the middle of the field, where there were some obvious holes in the coverage.

Shurmur completed less than 50 percent of his passes (18 of 40), but threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Here’s a good indication of how UF struggled in the secondary: the Gators gave up receptions of 21, 24, 28, 28 and 35 yards.

The Gators certainly didn’t go into the game anticipating Shurmur would put it 40 times. They were expecting the Commodores to pound the ball in the running game with tailback Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher who grew up in Gainesville and stared at Gainesville High.

That has been Vandy’s offensive identity. And that’s what the Gators prepared for.

It was not the Vandy offense they got.

“Vanderbilt is usually a running team,” middle linebacker David Reese said. “They didn’t really run the ball the whole game. They really just passed the whole game. So it was a switch up, and it wasn’t really what we expected.”

Once it became obvious the Commodores were going to attack primarily through the air, the defense still had problems covering up receivers and making plays in pass defense.

Senior cornerback Duke Dawson said some of those wide open receivers can be attributed to communication breakdowns, which can be a problem in a young secondary that starts one true freshman and plays two or three others.

“Just everyone getting the call,” Dawson said. “That’s the biggest challenge we have.”

“It was just errors in communication,” Reese said. “Nothing that we can’t fix.”

Whatever needs fixing in the secondary, the Gators need to get it done this week in practice. Because the next test (LSU) is going to be even tougher. The Tigers are another team that likes to rely on a power running game, but after watching the tape of Florida’s performance last week it’s almost a certainty that LSU will try to exploit a shaky secondary.

“For us it’s about understanding the preparation and what needs to happen,” McElwain said. “Didn’t think we played particularly well, obviously, in the pass defense piece. And yet, they might have caught us off-guard, a little bit out of Vandy’s wheelhouse or what they had shown. They kind of abandoned the run a little bit and really went to exposing us in the secondary. We’re going to have to get that shored up and the communication piece has got to be really good. And our tackling has to be spot on this week.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or Also check out Andreu’s blog at



Who: LSU (3-2, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (3-1, 3-0)

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. What an outrage. Surprised and can’t adjust against Vandy. At least MAC acknowledged it was a coaching failure. And I guess we’ll see this week if Florida can complete passes without Cleveland. No evidence to suggest we can.

    • Don’t be so hard on the coaches and team Steve, to be fair Cleveland has been the only deep threat so far. But there have been plenty of short passes completed to Powell, Toney, the TEs and RBs, now we need to have Hammond and Swain to go get it deep.