Gators expect quick fix on defense

Senior defensive lineman Cece Jefferson knows the direction his unit has to go to restore the roar to the Gators' proud defense. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

In times of trouble, and there have been many in recent years, the Florida Gators have always found comfort and security in their defense.

When the offense was going nowhere and the special teams were doing nothing and everything was going wrong, the defense was always there, making plays and finding ways to win games or keep the Gators in them.

Last year was different.

In a season that went south for everybody, the usually reliable defense faltered along with all other aspects of the program in a 4-7 disaster.

“I don’t know (what happened),” junior linebacker David Reese said. “Just as a whole, we weren’t dialed in and focused as we should have been. Dealing with a lot of adversity. Also, just the flow of the game, like the offense helping.”

Whatever it was, the Gators gave up 27.3 points a game, the most since 1946, and were hit for 5.7 yards per play, the most in the modern era. UF finished 31st in the nation in total defense.

The defense was, well, unrecognizable.

“Sometimes I look at game film (from last season), and this is not the Gator football team that I know, personally, that I’ve seen in the past,” linebacker Kylan Johnson said.

The bottom fell out on the defense during a two-week stretch late in the season that saw the Gators give up a combined 87 points in back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri.

“It was a tough time because that’s not the Gator standard,” senior defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson said.

The goal in 2018 is to get back to that Gator standard on defense.

With every starter back on defense except cornerback Duke Dawson and tackle Taven Bryan, the defense is confident it can regain its past form under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the new coaching staff.

“We’re definitely motivated,” Reese said.

“This defense, we’re hungry,” Jefferson said. “Let’s just say we’ll be back in the top 10.”

Last season under Randy Shannon, the Gators were more of a sit-back-and-react defense in a 4-3 scheme. Grantham’s 3-4 defense is much more aggressive and attacking, featuring numerous blitz packages and stunts.

“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 coaching is a part of developing that identity because really it gets down to habits. We’re not where we need to be yet, but our guys have embraced trying to develop the habits we need to be that kind of defense.

“If you do play to that identity, you have a good chance to win the game.”

The players have clearly embraced Grantham’s style of defense. They’ve talked throughout preseason camp about how much fun they’re having playing in it.

Linebackers aren’t the only ones coming on blitzes. So are the safeties and cornerbacks.

“Oh, we love it because everybody’s playing fast and physical,” junior linebacker Rashad Jackson said. “We just want to go out and intimidate the other team.”

The Gators should be strong up front, especially on the edge with Jefferson, Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga, sound at linebacker and potentially elite at the corner spots with Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson.

Depth at linebacker and the overall lack of experience at safety are concerns.

But the Gators have the talent to restore their high standard of defense, Reese said.

“I’ve got so much talent around me,” he said. “I just have to make sure we’re communicating and everyone is playing on the same page.

“We’ve got all the talent in the world. As long as we’re one, we’re going to be hard to beat. As long as we don’t let big plays happen, it’s going to be hard to score on us.”

Jefferson has a prediction for this defense.

“It’s going to be special,” he said.


  1. I know what happened. Some idiots got themselves suspended. the offense kept the defense on the field way too long, they were not properly conditioned by a staff that was incompetent. I could go on but this is plenty enough. If we improve those other areas the defense will improve.

    • vulcan,
      I think you nailed it. The combination of poor conditioning and an offense that repeatedly kept them on the field and put them in bad field position spelled disaster for our defense. Throw in the loss of personnel and you have one of the worst defenses in decades. I think the increase in strength and conditioning will be huge for us this season.

      • Guys, that’s about as succinct, and actually true, as it gets. And still, they wound up only 6 spots from the Top-25 for total defense — amazing. Correct those simple issues and there’s no doubt they’re a Top-10 defense this year. Giddy-Up and Go Gators!

  2. Offenses are rules based, and what this defensive scheme will do is confuse and the other side mentally, making their reads and checks harder, forcing more mistakes. A four year old could easily dissect the Romper Room defense from last year. Now, the world will see the awesome power of the GATOR WAR MACHINE!!!!!

    • It’s incredible how clueless coaches seem to all flock together – The Mac-Nuss-Nord traveling gaggle of coaching incompetence was matched by Randy Shannon, who has zero excuse as he is a former HC at Miami. It took Dan about two nanoseconds to see the possibilities at Florida – offered the job on Friday and was Gator-Chomping with NC rings on in Gainesville on Sunday! This team will surprise a lot of people.

  3. Nine of eleven defensive starters plus about the same on offense, plus Van Jones being a starter at Ole Miss. If Mullin turns the former 4 win team into WINNERS, we will see an amazing job of coaching.

  4. Just a few more days till we see the Gators take the field. I for one can’t hardly wait. But, we’ll have to wait one more week to see how much we have improved. In the Kentucky game we’ll how we have improved or has it been just talk. I think it is the latter. I also think Trask is going to be our qb. What I’ve read about Franks is he’s still playing like last year. Can’t read defense and still holds on to the ball too long. My feeling is we will be 8-4 or 9-3. I also feel we will upset one that everybody thinks we’ll lose. Just my thoughts.

  5. I agree with Ricky and Gator-6 except I’m not as worried about Franks. We will be Better and several of the teams on our schedule will be better too. By the end of the season I think we will be well pleased.

  6. Look at what UF Football has done in the past four seasons on defense. No other team out there could have stayed in every game like UF did in most cases due to strength on one side of ball…made it to two consecutive SEC Championship games without a quarterback. You take any of those ranked teams quarterbacks and they would likely be done. They say offense makes defense play better but imagine if UF had at least some offense to go with some of those National title defenses they been putting on the field the last few years during the Muschamp and McElwain years I’m thinking the college football landscape would be different with a couple of crystal ball trophies in Gainesville.

  7. I love the hope and optimism of the pre-season but I’m ready for a game. I’m so numb to the “This year we’re going to be better, just wait and see”. The only difference this year is we finally have not good but great coaching. For the love, I cannot take anymore boring and uninspired Gators football.

    Is it game day yet?

  8. R-E-P-R-E-S-E-N-T Gator ‘D’! Boo-ya’ hits (facemask or shoulder pads to their chests, as that’s legal), and it’ll literally take the wind right out of the other team’s sails, and their lungs. And Lord willing, Coach Mullen’s getting the ‘O’ going, and it will be a Gator football team we’ll all be proud of again. Go Gators! Just do it!

  9. Frago follows. Update 4 days to game day!
    You should have required game day items procured or arranged. Make sure you notify all friends and acquaintances fans or not that they are not to interrupt you after kick off. Really until after season is over. I’m remodeling the kitchen and scheduling around games. Check all refreshments and food are prepared. End of statement. Go Gators!
    Traveling home today. Can’t wait. C’mon Gators bring on the pain.

  10. There is good reason to be optimistic. The coaches have done a good job in coaching up. The players have beefed up and gotten faster. The O and D schemes are better. The QB’s are now managing the game rather than trying to break one all the time. The RB’s are better, the WR’s are better the TE’s are better, the secondary is better, the pass rush is better. When the O Line goes Beast Mode this will be an exciting year. GO GATORS !

  11. I still worry about the middle. Am not quite sure we have the inside NFL caliber talent at tackle as from previous years. Where’s the big name run stoppers? Definitely not Cece. Might be fine with the weaker teams, but to stop the Georgias and the like, I worry about being run on up the middle more than anything. Will see…

    • I’m willing to bet, Alum, that we beat Georgia this year, and that when all the dust settles, it will be mainly because a) they stopped themselves because Grantham confused them half to death, and b) whoever in the wide, wide world of sports the Gator QB is by then, he played smart. I’m totally serious.

      Or else, as is customary, I’ll be an egg suckin’ mule for the rest of the season.

      Florida by a field goal.