Third and Grantham

Once a weakness, third down defense now a strength for new Florida DC

UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, left, and head coach Dan Mullen watch players during practice at the Indoor Practice Facility on campus last year. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

New Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the elements are in place for the Gators to get opponents off the field on third down this season.

You’re good on third down when you have guys that can rush and guys that can cover,” Grantham said. “And I think that with the guys that we have here, I fully expect us to continue to be good.”

The phrase “third and Grantham” originated early in Grantham’s tenure as defensive coordinator at Georgia, due to his propensity to bring pressure on third down and give up big plays. But in three of his last four seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisville and Mississippi State, Grantham’s defense has finished 10th in the nation in third-down defense. Last season as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, opponents converted on only 30.41 percent of third-down plays against the Bulldogs.

Grantham said the keys to third-down defense are making players aware of what’s coming relative to distance, having the ability to rush the passer and playing tight coverage.

“We’re more of a pattern match zone defense, so even though sometimes it looks like it’s man-to-man, it’s actually zone,” Grantham said. “I think that allows you to play tighter coverage, which forces the quarterbacks to make more accurate throws, and that can help you rush and also your turnovers.”

Grantham’s recent success on third down is a far cry from his first season as defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2010, when his defense finished 79th in the nation in third down at 41.86 percent conversions allowed.

“You’re always evolving to become a better coach,” Grantham said. “I would say the answer to that is hopefully we’re better — I’m a better coach this year than I was last year or three years ago because you’re always working to — you have to stay on track with things that are happening. You know, the offenses evolve, things change, people may attack you a different way relative to what they see.”

Third down was labeled the “money down” at Florida under former defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left before the start of the 2017 season to take the head coaching job at Temple. Under former Florida defensive coordinator Randy Shannon last season, the Gators took less chances blitzing on third down, but still finished 22nd in the nation in third-down defense at 33.09 percent.

On the rare occasions when Florida brought extra pressure last season, it often backfired. Shannon called for a rare blitz during last season’s Florida-Georgia game, but Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm saw it coming and completed a 45-yard screen pass play to running back Sony Michel for a TD.

Grantham said he intends to disguise blitzes in different formations.

“Just because you have the illusion that a guy is coming doesn’t mean it’s always man-to-man because at the end of the day, you can bring four, you can bring five or you can bring six,” Grantham said. “That part of it is really game-by-game relative to the match-ups and how you feel about how you can affect the quarterback.”

Florida players are excited about playing in Grantham’s attacking style of defense, which will mix 3-4 and 4-3 front-seven formations. Under Grantham, Mississippi State finished fifth in the SEC in sacks with 36. Florida, meanwhile, finished 12th in the SEC in sacks last season with 23, ahead of just Tennessee (22) and Arkansas (19).

“We’re a lot less conservative than we were last season,” said Florida redshirt sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Moon, who got a first taste of Grantham’s defense during spring practice. “We’re going to be playing a lot more aggressive and we’ll see a lot more plays being made on the defensive side of the ball.”

Florida coach Dan Mullen saw first-hand the impact that Grantham has on a defense. Two years ago, before Grantham arrived from Louisville, Mississippi State ranked 110th in the nation in total defense. Last season, with Mullen at the helm and Grantham as defensive coordinator, Mississippi State’s defense ranked 10th in the nation. It’s why Mullen lured Grantham with a $1.39 million offer to become UF’s new defensive coordinator.

“He’s a guy that can talk football at an extremely high level and know every detail of the game from front all the way to back,” Mullen said. “I think that’s what really makes him a special football coach is his knowledge front to back of the whole defense and the system.”

A look at Todd Grantham’s third-down defenses since 2010:

Year/National Rank/Pct./School

2010: 79th (41.86%)  Georgia

2011: 3rd (28.93%)   Georgia

2012: 37th (36.54%) Georgia

2013: 64th (39.49%) Georgia

2014: 10th (31.79%) Louisville

2015: 35th (35.32%) Louisville

2016: 10th (31.53%) Louisville           

2017: 10th (30.41%) Mississippi State


    • Hey 6, let’s hope that a $1.39 million paycheck will help accomplish that. While turnover of coordinators and assistants is common, it would be nice to have some continuity in the coaching staff for a while. If need be, I will take the job for half that paycheck!!

    • assistants are always moving up (or moving down). it’s a rare coach that isn’t looking for the former or experiencing the latter. a lot of guys want to be a head coach. when you think of the best assistants at florida, they all moved up, successful ones not long after being here. everybody wants the team to win titles. that leads to a revolving door at the assistant level, Look at how many saban assistants, spurrier assistants went elsewhere after not very long. It’s true in any money sport. the donovan coaching tree in basketball is another example.

  1. 6 & Dan I agree with the need to keep assistants here are long as they are doing the job. Think that could be slowed with money but there is a limit. Below is a quote from above
    “Mississippi State, Grantham’s defense has finished 10th in the nation in third-down defense. Last season as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, opponents converted on only 30.41 percent of third-down plays against the Bulldogs.”
    If Grantham can build a top 10 on 3rd down defense in Louisville and Miss St. the state one being the key as they are in our conference so we know what they were up against (in the west mind you) with talented players but not as highly ranked as ours. If we want to say * power is key to potential then our players should really be good this year if they have grasped the scheme. If he stays and adapts to the changes O’s will make to counter our defense will be top 5. If I see one more db get hit in the back of the head or watch the ball go by I will change my mind. Our guys last year weren’t coached. When on the other thread they were talking about knowing football and not receiving input from previous staff on how to/what to do as players it is now clear why Mac was rambling at the press conf. HE DIDN”T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING!!!! The bits that have been release look like the guys are sharper, definitely fitter. They are now learning the whole game. CAN’T WAIT ’til Sep1. Common 6 gives us a count. I am gonna put up a calendar and cross of the days. At one time it would have had a un PC image of some kind be we do live in a different time.

        • Yeah, but the troops love it…..want proof? We’re still talking about it after all these years!

          ………I wanna live that life of danger/I wanna be an airborne ranger…..I wanna go to Vietnam/I wanna kill some Charlie Cong……..

          The words may change, but the jody never does! Go Gators!

  2. Good stuff ’65. Former Eagle Joe Walsh has a song (on my i-phone) entitled “Living a Life of Illusion”. The more I’ve read about the 3 years under Mac, the more I can see how he was either a master at creating the illusion of his competency, or was delusional in actually thinking that he was competent. Either way, we thank our AD for seeing this and moving on. That said, once this new season starts, I think all of us wh Gator fans, including me, should let go of the past 6 years of Musch and Mac and focus on the here and now while looking ahead to the future that Mullen and this staff will deliver on. Right now, USA Today has UF’s 2019 recruiting class ranked 25th in the country, but of more concern, 10th in the SEC. The low ranking is based not so much on the number of ****’s, but on the low number of current commitments (11). As our new coaching staff proves how well they know their stuff, the results will be there. With that, the longer they are here, the more they will build up the all important relationships with the high school kids and their coaches, and the quantity as well as the ****s of our recruiting classes will grow with it. Some staff turnover will be inevitable, some of it my even prove to be needed, but having a core group with continuity can only be invaluable. One final musical reference, this one from the guy who played so many free concerts on campus when my wife and I were there, Jimmy Buffet! In his song “Changes in Lattitude…” he says “Yesterday is over my shoulder, so I can’t look backward too long! There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know I just can’t go wrong” Preach on Jimmy, and Go Gators (and Parrot heads!!)
    Gator-6, I’m betting that you will relate to these musical offerings!!

    • I can! And better yet, I didn’t even need to pull a nose hair to get a tear in my eye!

      You and ’65 definitely missed your callings as motivational speakers, I feel like either running out to re-enlist in something, or flying to Hogtown and trying to walk on for Dan Mullen!

  3. we do need outstanding assistants, and except linebacker, the coaches are proven. its great if they stay but the business has a lot of turmoil so who knows. earlier articles in other gator publications mentioned he is a fan of the zone blitz that often has defensive linemen in coverage. hope that works.

  4. My wife and I are trying to find a new church here in Dallas and visited a new one for the first time this weekend. About 10 minutes into the pastor’s sermon he started a story with “I’m a huge Florida Gators fan, my dads a Gator, my moms a Gator, I just love the Florida Gators”. It took all the self control, I could muster to not yell “GO GATORS” and embarrass the crap out of my wife. I mention all this here because he even made a “third and Grantham” reference. Guess we can stop looking for a new church, the good Lord has sent us a sign! GO GATORS!

    • Damn, I’m 2 hours south of you down I-35 in Salado, and if I didn’t like my own new church so much I think I’d make the drive every Sunday just to witness that. Regrettably, the minister here responded to my Go Gators with a hearty, GEAUX TIGERS, despite being born and raised in Texas. I don’t know what demon got ahold of that guy, I told him he was a false prophet and damn near the Anti-Christ — but my wife said to give him a chance. Well, OK, he’s a pretty good old boy anyway. Except for that. But I still write Go Gators on my tithing checks too.