At a lot of places, being the 31st-ranked team in the country in total defense would be a reason to celebrate. Heck, at the very least the defensive coordinator would get a raise.
Shoot, in the Big 12, being No. 31 would probably lead to a head coaching job at another school. It might lead to a small parade.
But this is Florida, a school once known for offense but not anymore. Instead, this is DBU and smother and cover and the money downs. This is where offenses go to die.
Well, except for last year. It’s not that Florida’s defense was bad. It certainly wasn’t offense-bad.
But the Gators were 31st in the country in total defense. The average finish for the previous nine seasons was seventh in the country. Only once in those nine years, when UF was 15th in Jim McElwain’s first year, have the Gators not finished in the top 10 nationally.
Florida was also 69th in scoring defense (some of which can be blamed on the inept offense), 79th in sacks (we’ll get to that) and 81st in turnovers gained (nobody EVER fumbled).
So you look at those stats and maybe it WAS a bad defense. I don’t think so. I just think it was too predictable. Florida’s defensive scheme gave vanilla a bad name.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson agrees.
“Last year was too simple for us,” he said. “We’re good, but we don’t know football. Now, we talk football so much we are almost sick of it.”
There was a bit of a double take when the Florida nickelback said that at Florida’s Media Day on Thursday. So I asked him what he meant by the team not knowing football.
“The ins and outs,” he said. “We knew what to do right, but we didn’t know what we were doing wrong exactly. Since these coaches have been here, we’ve dived in more.
“This new coaching staff, they have a whole different mindset, different mentality.”
Look, the knock on Randy Shannon before he took over the Florida defense was that he didn’t like to blitz and it showed up in the fact that Florida ranked 12th in the SEC in sacks. Chicks dig the long ball and corner blitzes, right?
There seems little doubt Florida will be more aggressive this year. That may result in mistakes that lead to big plays for the opponent, but that’s the risk you take. The no-risk, no-reward option is out the window.
“Coach Shannon’s defense was simple, but it wasn’t fit for everybody on the defense and what they did well,” Gardner-Johnson said. “With Coach Grantham, it fits everybody and you learn what everybody is doing. It’s going to be a change this year. You have to put your head into it and focus every day.”
It certainly was a different look in the spring in that it’s easier to disguise coverages and blitzes in a 3-4 defense and we haven’t even seen what Grantham will throw at offenses with the game on the line.
“Oh yeah, there is definitely a lot of movement on defense,” UF receiver Freddie Swain said after going against this defense in the spring. “It’s kind of hard to pick up on what they’re doing and what coverage they’re in.”
I’m one of those people who believes Florida can return to being an elite defense after an off year. Despite some depth issues, the talent is there.
But the key is for this defense to play on its toes instead of its heels.
“The biggest thing we always talk about on defense is playing to our identity, which we say is fast, physical and aggressive,” Grantham said. “And really, coaching is a part of developing that identity, because really it gets down to habits. If you do play to that identity, you have a good chance to win the game. If you can develop that mindset of having to play to that identity with competitive toughness, I mean, you have a chance to be a good defense and be hard to score on and create turnovers, and if you do that, you’ve got a chance to be in every game.”
I remember those.
Florida may have hired a head coach known for his offense, but he knows the same thing we all do — if Florida is going to get back in the national picture, the Gators need to take all of this new knowledge and new aggressiveness and new shoes and start slobber-knocking people again.
“I think that the confidence that they’re going to get from being put in the position to be successful by the staff as well as the experience that they’ve been out there and played before, I think that’s going to give us the opportunity to get the defense back to where we expect it to be,” Dan Mullen said Thursday.
“You have to play great defense, and that’s something that we’re going to do.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.