Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a simple and succinct explanation for why the Florida defense got gutted for 303 yards rushing in the loss to Kentucky on Saturday night.
“No. 1, we got our tails kicked, OK?” he said. “You can’t hide that.”
No you can’t. It was out there, live and on national television, for all to see — Kentucky’s offensive linemen manhandling Florida’s defensive front all night long.
Along with being in a physical mismatch, there was other bad stuff also going on for the Gators that contributed: players losing discipline and getting out of their gaps; linemen, linebackers and defensive backs all missing tackles; the defensive ends and outside linebackers giving up the edge and letting UK quarterback Terry Wilson scramble for big plays.
The result was 175 yards rushing on 27 carries for Benny Snell Jr., 105 on 10 carries for Wilson and 23 on four carries for Asim Rose.
It all adds up to 303 yards rushing and 7.4 yards a carry.
By UF’s high defensive standards, giving up 100 yards rushing is poor, 200 in unacceptable and 303, well, that is a downright disaster.
“We always talk about playing to a standard and playing to an identity. We didn’t do that,” Grantham said. “We always talk about stopping the run and affecting the quarterback. We didn’t do either one and didn’t give ourselves a chance to win because of that.
“The biggest thing is just looking for solutions, and the thing with that is there’s a certain physicality you’ve got to play with up front. You’ve got to be able to set the edge. You’ve got to be able to strike blockers.”
When the Gators weren’t getting physically overpowered by a stronger UK front, mental errors were taking them out of position to make plays.
Linemen got out of their gaps, allowing Snell to cut back and find openings. And the edge players failed to contain Wilson in the pocket when he started to scramble around, letting him break outside to an open field.
“You’ve got to trust that, ‘I’m going to stay in my gap and the other guy’s going to be in his gap,’ ” Grantham said. “When you start freelancing, you create seams. That’s something we’ve got to work on as we move forward.
“It really gets down to securing your gap and doing what you’re supposed to do and making sure that you’re where you need to be. That’s the biggest thing.
“Hey, look, if somebody hits a play, they hit a play. But the key thing is to play in a consistent basis. You’ve got to play consistently four quarters. You’ve got to play with effort and energy, but you’ve also got to be able to do things on a consistent basis.”
In the 27-16 loss, the UF defensive front wasn’t tough enough or strong enough to hang with the Wildcats. That’s a troubling sign, as the Gators prepare to enter the heart of their SEC schedule, where they will be facing some offensive fronts that are more physical than Kentucky’s.
It’s an issue the Gators have started addressing on the practice field this week.
UF coach Dan Mullen has said the Gators need to be tougher and more physical in practice, and that’s been the approach.
“You practice,” Grantham said. “You get better during practice. You’ve got to continue to develop yourself and play with the effort and energy that we talk about. Then you’ll get better. It’s really about finishing the play. Finish the play. Tackling, finish your job.
“I like our guys’ approach. We just have to keep working. There’s a fine line between being really good and not being where you want to be. We’ve just got to continue to work to do the things that you have to do to be a good defense.”
The Gators certainly will be working on their tackling this week. They missed 20 tackles against Kentucky that led to 168 yards in UK gains.
It’s an issue that junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson addressed with his teammates during Saturday’s game.
“I spoke to the defense at halftime and at the end of the game,” he said. “They came in here and slapped us in the mouth. We’ve got to respond.
“As leaders of this team, we’ve got to go in and we’ve got to dial in and practice and do what we need to do because we can’t change the outcome. You’ve got to go in and get ready for this week.”