Gators’ fresh troops making difference in final quarter

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald drops down after running for a few yards Saturday against Florida in Starkville, Miss. Florida won 13-6. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Flying around like they were jacked up on a potent energy drink, Florida’s defensive players made Mississippi State dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald look like an immobile pocket passer in the decisive fourth quarter Saturday night in Starkville.

The Gators harassed him. They hit him. They sacked him. They made him appear helpless and hopeless.

And in the end, they buried him with a lightning-fast safety blitz that gave him zero time to react.

They were able to do this because the Gators were running on fresh legs.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had liberally substituted throughout the first three quarters, so when the game went into the fourth quarter, the Gators weren’t weary or running on heavy legs. They were energized and light on their feet.

They got after Fitzgerald and the MSU offense in a big, fast way.

“There’s no doubt (that was a major factor),” Grantham said. “If you go back and watch our get off and our pass rush in the fourth quarter (you’ll see). For example, (rush end) Jachai Polite and Cece Jefferson were basically rotating throughout the game.

“(Polite) was right at 30-something plays. We start that two-minute drive at the end of the game, he gets a sack. And then Cece actually comes in and gets another one. He got a penalty on him, but he ended up with a sack and some good pressure.

“Our guys are starting to see the value of when you rotate guys you can keep guys fresh. The value of rotating guys showed up and I think our guys are buying into it.”

Grantham said the defensive coaches played between 22 and 24 players on defense in the game. The Gators rotated players in and out throughout, including the fourth quarter, which the UF defense dominated.

In the quarter, the defense held the MSU offense to just three first downs (two by penalty) and only 11 total yards — 21 passing and minus-10 rushing.

Oh, yeah, and the Gators sacked Fitzgerald three times in the quarter, the same number of times they sacked him in the first quarter.

So, it appears the defense was as fresh in the fourth quarter as it was in the first.

Rotating multiple players to keep everyone fresh throughout the game, especially on defense, is part of Dan Mullen’s coaching philosophy.

“One thing that is different than what a lot of people do defensively, I like to rotate,” Mullen said. “Todd and our defensive staff understand, we like to rotate players.

“When you get to the fourth quarter of a game like last week, your defense is fresh. It’s fresh late in the game, the final drive of the game.”

The Gators played 11 different defensive linemen in the 13-6 win over Mississippi State. Conversely, MSU pretty much stayed with its starting line throughout the game.

In the fourth quarter, while the UF defense was shutting down the Bulldogs, the UF offense was sustaining drives and adding an important field goal.

“Our d-line turned it up,” nickel defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “Mississippi State, they have a great defensive line. Watching them play on defense, they were good. They’re physical and fast up front, but not having depth can really wear you down.

“Having depth on our sideline , our d-line was constantly rolling, having different guys coming in. Jachai was turning it up in the fourth quarter, Cece was fresh. (Tackle) T.J. Slaton was fresh. (Tackle) Kyree Campbell and those guys. When their number was called, they just went and made plays. They weren’t too tired and weren’t exhausted from anything.”

One potential problem with playing so many players is that some, especially the better ones, want to play as many plays as they can. They don’t want to come out.

“I think everyone is buying in to what we’re trying to do,” Mullen said. “Guys can be like, ‘I don’t like coming off the field. I want to stay on the field. I want to do this.’ But what you see is when you get to the fourth quarter, your defense is fresh.

“The players are understanding that and starting to buy into it.”

It’s easier to buy in when you’re getting results. And that’s what the Gators are doing, staying fresh and playing fast to the finish.


Who: No. 5 LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC) vs. No. 22 Florida (4-1, 2-1)

When: 3:30 p.m.

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


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


    • I’m surprised it’s that low, Pooky. Regardless, they will come in over-confident and if we play hard, mistake free as much as possible, and stick to our game plan — well, let me ask you instead — what do you think?

      • I think we kick some Tiger butt. I am very satisfied with the defense and special teams. The Oline will always be a concern, but DM devised a great offensive plan that didn’t ask the Oline to do more than it was capable while utilizing the talent we have at wide receiver and running back. I’m bullish about the result Sat., the Gator crowd will make it tough and our boys walk off the field with win number 5. Go Gators.

      • Points are determined by the number of bets on each side. Its that low because so many people are betting on UF, nearly as many as are betting on LSU. So many are betting on UF because, just like on this site most of the fans have this unrealistic idea that we are going to win. If we do, it will truly be an upset because we dont have anywhere near the team, especially on offense that LSU has. I guarantee you LSU would have demolished UK.

        • Owno Daz…

          We should have won last year and our defense is decidedly better The only difference is their QB and OC…and he is better, but not the next coming of Bert Jones. I don’t see it that way…and not sure about a guarantee of demolishing of UK. UK is a damn good, physical team with a playmaker at QB as well….they will be a tough out moving forward.

  1. Agree with approach, that it worked, and that the end result was apparent Saturday night. Great stuff. That said, with the current roster I will also admit it would be difficult for me to take Reese or Henderson off the field (no disrespect to R. Jackson who filled in admirably while Reese was injured). I don’t think I’m saying anything CDM and Grantham aren’t fully aware of.

  2. Robbie good read. This is how Alabama does so well into the 4th qtr. They are fresh and the opponents are gassed. Even if they are fit and conditioned they have rotated throughout the game and have relatively fresh players pressing on d or moving the ball on offense.

  3. And I’m happy to see an aggressive, attacking D. Supposedly an oft-blitzing D gives up too many big plays(I still prefer that to “death by a thousand cuts”), but this D is giving up less big plays and less everything else than Randy’s passive D last season.

    • Shannon said he was “simplifying ” the defense when he took over. Simple yes! Everyone could tell what we were going to do and ply call around it. Shannon was a joke. We had great defenses for the last decade up until that point! I was so disappointed when McElwain made him DC, i had never thought much of his defenses.

  4. A huge reason the D was fresh in the 4th quarter was they were standing on the sidelines thru much of the 2nd half while the O methodically picked up 1st downs. We should have scored more we were pushing MSU in the 2nd half and they couldn’t get us off the field. When they did, the fresh D stuffed them for 3-and-outs and here come the Gators again. Not used to seeing this I’ve been so dumbed down by Nussmeier’s pathetic O and Mac looking like a scarecrow on the sidelines. We have real football back in Gainesville, boys.

    • You called it, Tuna. It was an old school SEC game, but was still entertaining and exciting. I’ve seen several people complain that the O still doesn’t get it, they look like Muschamp teams, etc. This is totally wrong. They aren’t King Slayers yet, but they are on the path to greatness. Franks and the O didn’t light up the scoreboard but they sustained drives and held field position when they had to. They were methodical and confident. We haven’t seen that consistently in years. The one other thing you didn’t mention is that our Special Teams, esp punting, kept them pinned with a full field to cover throughout the entire game. That alone may have been the difference for a team still struggling to get it all clicking at the same time.

      This is was what good football looks like. The future is bright.

      • Couldn’t agree more. The second Gator drive of the first half is a perfect example of the difference between this team and any team of the last
        8 or 9 years. After MSU gets a three point lead we start at the ten yard line and then have a procedure call. Like Pavlov’s dog, I expected a three and out followed by a quick touchdown and game over. DIDN’T HAPPEN!! The offense gave us a long drive. They converted on third downs. They stalled but got three points and stopped the MSU momentum. True, it isn’t Spurrier like, but it sure isn’t like Muschamp or Mcelwain. It was good football. And one day it will be great football. GO GATORS!

        • Spot on Boomtown & Galvez. The only thing that was similar to the muschamp or mcelwain era was the score. The game plan, in game adjustments, effort, product, etc. – all so enjoyable. That said, there were too many penalties, but I fully trust the coaches to correct it. Never had faith that the prior staffs could correct the penalty problem. GO GATORS!

          • How soon we forget! Muschamp’s offenses also sustained drives they just couldnt score much. They’d get down in the red zone and just couldnt punch it in because they didnt have a good enough QB. Sound familiar? Up until the MSU game at least we scored more points. Up until that game our offense could NOT sustain drives. It was the play calls that allowed Franks to keep the drives alive, alot of screens which let him make quick passes. Problem was he didnt call any deep passes that are Franks strength. If the coach doesnt add back in some deep passes then get used to the low scoring offenses of the past cause Franks cant score in the red zone. Plus in this game there were no defensive scores nor short fields from S.T.

          • Daz…but the game plan was ideal for Miss State’s defense. You can have a defensive game here and there. They happen…you can’t indict a team off one game as a pattern.

            Don’t forget the 2006 team that didn’t score points either in the reg season.

  5. I’m happy about the progress this team has made they grow a little each week let’s hope they continue that process even if the gators lose as long as they keep progressing and getting better on both sides of the ball.

    I said 8-4 at the beginning of the year I really think the gators can get to 9-3 at the beginning of the season I had us losing to the coonasses both bulldog teams and to split Mizzou and USCE but I think those games are very winnable now the gators just need to continue getting better each week and at the end we could be a very good team and expect a lot next season

  6. We are also doing this on offense, playing a lot of different receivers and tight ends, and rotating three running backs. We even had at least three different players line up at QB (wildcat). I love it!

  7. “When you get to the fourth quarter of a game like last week, your defense is fresh. It’s fresh late in the game, the final drive of the game.” Too bad Mac and Chump never thought of that. I like putting Dameon Pearce in during the 4th Q and watching him buzzsaw his way through a tired MSU defense. He nearly busted off his weekly long TD run. Boy, it sure is good to have a real coach again!

  8. I’m TOTALLY EXCITED about this team. First time in a while. But I do have a question about our clock management at the end of the first half. Why didn’t we call a time out and use the 55secs to try and score? Was that question asked?

  9. KRG, With scores being so hard to get in a game like that, I think Mullen’s thinking was just get to the locker room at half, make adjustments, etc… no need to get a ”pick 6” before the half or give Miss. State an easy F.G. I think Coach Mullen tried to make them punt to get a ”block punt” going, but we saw what happened. They just ran the clock out. Go Gators! BEAT L.S.U.!

    • Agree with your premise, gi, but as KRG pointed out, there was the opportunity to call time out with 55 seconds left. Had CDM done that, MSU couldn’t have run out the clock like they did. The would’ve had to punt the ball, so the opportunity would’ve been there. If they didn’t get it, then the offense could’ve take a knee and gone to the locker room. The delay in calling the time out cost them the opportunity for a punt block.