Lockdown: Gators’ plan to slow down Missouri QB

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock runs against Memphis earlier this month. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Being the pure pocket passer that he is, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock must be smiling this week watching the tape of last Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game.

There, on the HD screen, is UGA quarterback Jake Fromm, secure in a clean pocket, delivering passes to open, sometimes wide open, receivers.

A quarterback’s dream, right?

So, maybe Lock is smiling now, but he might not be this Saturday in The Swamp when he realizes he’s not facing the same depleted secondary that Fromm picked apart for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

For one, starting cornerback CJ Henderson, arguably UF’s best defensive player, is back after bruising his back on the first series against Georgia and not returning.

For another, Brad Stewart, who started five of the six games prior to the Georgia game at safety, is returning after missing last Saturday’s game for undisclosed reasons.

The secondary is back to what it was before the Georgia game.

Getting Henderson is big. It changes the whole dynamic in the secondary.

 “He’ll make sure he locks down one side of the field,” safety Jeawon Taylor said.

The Gators had learned to get by in the secondary without starting cornerback and rising star Marco Wilson, who went down with a season-ending knee injury in the loss to Kentucky.

But they could not get by with Wilson and Henderson both out against Georgia.

“You lose probably your best defensive player when you’ve already lost your first or second-best player for the year,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Any time you look at a spot that is really not deep, but has some of your best players, and then you don’t have them play in a game, (it’s hard to overcome).

“And (Georgia) did a good job of taking advantage of that. That’s how they were able to move the ball.”

Now that Henderson is back, the Gators match up much better against Lock and the Missouri receivers. Without Henderson this week, the secondary would have been looking at the same potential problems that derailed UF in the loss to Georgia.

“Any time you have guys that have the talent of CJ, that obviously helps you because you’re facing a NFL quarterback,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “(Lock) is probably a first-round pick that’s got a cannon for an arm, that can do a lot of things.

“We’ve got a really big challenge ahead of us so we’ve got to make sure we play as a team and the 11 guys out there do their jobs so that we can be functional with what we’re doing.”

The Gators are closer to full strength in the secondary with the return of Henderson and Stewart. But the lack of depth, especially at cornerback, remains a concern.

As UF found out last Saturday, the Gators are only an injury or two away from becoming dysfunctional at times in the back end of the defense. The Gators not only had trouble covering receivers man-to-man, they also had several blown coverages.

“Next guy up,” Mullen said. “If we lose a whole bunch more, I guess we’ve got to go play just base defense and keep more linebackers on the field and adjust our scheme a little bit.”

The Gators won’t have to do that this week. At least that’s what it appears heading into Saturday’s game. So, the secondary has a better chance going against one of the nation’s premier passers.

If one or two defensive backs do go down, well, there is another way to slow down Lock.

In Missouri’s 15-14 loss to Kentucky last Saturday, the Wildcats rendered Lock ineffective in the second half by shutting down the Tigers’ running attack. Under pressure, Lock struggled and the Missouri offense had eight consecutive three-and-outs in the second half.

Stopping the run is on the top of UF’s defensive to-do list.

“I’ve watched (the tape of the UK-Missouri game),” Grantham said. “I think the biggest thing is, (Kentucky) didn’t let them run the ball.

“It still goes back to, even though you’ve got teams that you know can throw the ball around, if you can eliminate the run game, not let people run the ball, then on third down, you get off the field. That’s how you get eight three-and-outs.”



    • Do you believe every comment you read from the coaches and players? When a team loses it’s easy to pick out comments about not practicing hard or such. Should they say “we gave it our all in practice and in the game, but GA was a better team than us”? I don’t think any more of those post loss comments than I do of the “can a duck pull a truck?” comments.

      • theres more to it than effort in practice, effort is important but practicing smart, being in the right frame of mind, there is a lot to it, particularly with a youngish group. sometimes bad warmups have great results too. i doubt these guys get away with loafing, the staff is very good. it could be that the team knew about the issues with Stewart which had to hurt, particularly with the defensive backfield. I love Grantham but the 5 man defensive backfield tests the depth we have more than a four man approach. almost pulled it off though, the front 6 did the job of 7 quite well.

  1. We need to practice hard
    We need to play hard
    We need to rush the passer
    We need to stop the run
    We need to eliminate turnovers and get some
    Sure hope Mullen and company read these boards so they can get the team ready thanks to the sage advice of all the posters here

  2. One thing I did not understand against UG – when we were not in a dime package, how come Chauncey – Gardner didn’t play any corner? Seems to be a better option than McWilliams. Also agree with ag8tor – Vosean on a TE is trouble.

    • HB. Florida plays a hybrid 3 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 4 nickel scheme on defense most of the time. I do not recall Florida playing any dime coverage this year. And Gardner-Johnson hardly ever leaves the field. And Grantham addressed your post just this week.

    • Here you go HB, this is exactly what Grantham said in regard to your question about why Gardner didn’t play corner. “When you play the star position, it’s a combination of corner, safety, you have to have some size, physicality to you,” Grantham said. “You got to be able when you blitz to affect the quarterback a little bit.

      “With his skill set and all the things that he does, he makes plays there and he can play fast and it’s best suited to him. It kind of goes back to the adage, if you move him from that spot to another spot now you’ve made two spots worse. So, let’s keep him where he is and let him continue to play and we’ll work to correct other issues if we have them.”

  3. Bad officiating near the end of the 4th qrtr cost Mizzou the game Saturday in my book. I recorded the game and watched it later. Kentucky should have been called for obvious offensive pass interference (the receiver was all over the defender and tried to shove him down) and the game would have ended with a loss for the Wildcats. I couldn’t believe the officials ignored it and called interference on the defender after the fact at the end of the play. The Gators are facing a team that should have gotten credit for beating a team that beat UF. I hope they know that, and that it may make them take Mizzou seriously–despite their record and the final outcome of that game. Mizzou, for most of that game, gave UK’s offense fits. I think UF is the better team and will beat Mizzou, but they’re no pushover.

  4. Make no mistake. Mizzou is NOT as bad as their record. Lock has put up some big numbers and they have quality RBs. Their defense is suspect. I am going to assume Mullen and the Gators don’t take them lightly but we can’t get any defensive starters injured and out of the game a/la Georgia. Chauncey is needed for all defensive plays. And Grantham has to devise a pass rush that’s better than the one against Fromm. No sacks and no turnovers didn’t help Florida. I think this one will be close.