Executing plays paves way on UF defense vs. Gamecocks

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A host of Florida defensive players bring down South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley during Saturday's game. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

Looking at the big picture, the perception is Florida’s defense is in full stagger mode heading down the stretch of the season.

Over the last three Saturdays, the Gators have given up all kinds of big plays and an average of 33 points and 428.3 total yards a game. Those numbers say they’re staggering.

But if you take a closer look, at the small picture — the second half against South Carolina — the Florida defense is actually on a two-quarter run of strong play.

For at least a half, the Gators got back to playing the same kind of defense they did earlier in the season in wins over LSU and Mississippi State.

Over the final two quarters, the Gators held the Gamecocks to four first and downs and 145 total yards and got stops on five of six third-down plays. Take away the one big play — an 89-yard catch and run by USC wide receiver Deebo Samuel — and the muffed punt and the defense would have pitched a shutout and given up only 56 total yards.

Given the almost remarkable transformation from the first half to the second, the assumption is that coordinator Todd Grantham and the defensive staff spent the halftime break making all kinds of adjustments. But that’s not the case, Grantham said.

It was just a matter of the players focusing in on executing their assignments.

“The game in itself shows the belief the players have in coaches and coaches have in the players because we really kind of just stayed the course and kept playing,” Grantham said. “Guys kept doing their job. We didn’t really make any adjustments at halftime. Here are the things we’re going to call, here are the plays you’re going to see and go play.

“We got a three-and-out, then we got a sudden change (with the muffed punt). Then we go out and stop them and hold them to a field goal. That gave us a chance to win the game. That’s why you play every play and you keep playing because you never know what can happen.”

Few in The Swamp probably saw Florida’s second-half defensive performance coming. Because in the first half, the Gators looked and played just like they did in the losses to Georgia and Missouri, giving up all kinds of big plays and failing on third down.

South Carolina’s two quick touchdowns in the first quarter were almost too easy — quarterback Jake Bentley throwing to wide-open tight ends Jacob August and Kyle Markway. Both TDs were the result of blown coverages.

And the defense could not get off the field, with the Gamecocks converting six of seven third-down plays in the half.

The second half was a completely different story. The Gators covered the USC receivers and came up with game-changing stops on third down.

“(We) executed,” Grantham said. “Third down is about matchups, it’s about one-on-ones, it’s about execution, understanding the sticks. But at the end of the day, nothing changed. The calls were the same. The best thing I think that we did is we kept playing.

“(The players) understood, ‘Hey, I just have to execute and do this.’ I thought the coaches on the sideline and in the box did a good job of saying, ‘Here are the fits, here’s what we’ve got to do.’ Players did a good job of taking coaching.

“In the second half we were 6-of-7 on third down and had a couple big stops in the fourth quarter. So we’ll continue to learn from that and move forward.”

UF’s overall defensive performance — 31 points, 18 first downs, 386 yards, seven of 13 third-down conversions — may not look all that good, but that strong second half is something to build on.

“A lot of confidence,” senior defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “When everybody’s doing their part, when we’re all together, we can (stop anybody).”

32 COMMENTS

  1. Small sample size. Hopefully we’ve learned how to handle hurry up, multiple tight ends, third downs and better tackling. Also remember we had the champ choke going in our favor. Plus this article is numbers and quotes but not a lot of details in the explanation Dept.

    Still I hope it’s true or at least partly true. I suspect there is some truth to it. And hopefully were finding leadership for the future which is job #1 Imo anyway and has been all along.

  2. The good thing is, they don’t even have to be all that good against the next two offensively challenged teams. The bowl game will be a different story though, especially if they are up against UCF or West Virginia.

  3. I found it encouraging. I am curious why we can’t seem to remember to cover tight ends. Teams have been getting them wide open for weeks.

    But, clearly the players upped their game and stopped the Mushmobile in the second half, exposing it as just another broken down Mush Family jalopy spewing clouds of smoke as the engine backfired repeatedly and the gears ground, the engine screaming, the car lurching and then finally sputtering dead all the while Mushbrain stood on the sidelines howling, “I am the greatest coach this world have ever known! Worship me as a God!”

  4. I don’t agree with the article. We are what we are. This team wins because it never gives up, is resilient and takes advantage of the other team’s bad decisions. We also have some talent and a very smart head coach . But, we have not played well defensively against a good throwing QB all season. If we don’t sack or intercept, we have problems. We have a big play defensive capacity, which means we get nickled and dimed, and sometimes quartered and dollared to death when we don’t come up with big plays. Luckily South Carolina thought the game was over and stopped being as aggressive in the second half and particularly late in the third Q. Thank you Will Muschamp! I love Henderson. I think he is our best all around defensive player. I am worrying about the linebackers. We have not covered a tight end all year running a route across the middle of the field.Despite that, we have a chance to go 9-3 and I think that, although we will give up some yards against FSU, our D line should kill their O linemen and put pressure on Francois. I think our D will make big plays. We just have to hope our O doesn’t turn the ball over either. Get this about FSU: out of 129 FBS teams, FSU is 119th in turnover margin, 124th in red zone offense, 127th in rushing offense,128th in yards per carry, 128th in third down conversion,128th in TFL allowed and 128th in penalties.Heck our D should score points in that game. Statistically, FSU is probably the worst team in the country.

  5. Thinking about 2 of the best defensive minded head coaches in the SEC, Saban and Kirby, and both struggled getting their system installed the first season. Next year will tell a lot more about what our defense is going to look like long term. These players are all still learning to trust the system to work.

    • Yeah I’m liking a potential 9 win season much more than Saban’s 2 win first season. I think people forget that this is a defense loaded with a bunch of players recruited to run a 4-3 defense. Everyone knew going into the season that LB and the secondary would be major weaknesses, so I’m not sure why so many people are wondering what’s wrong. Learning a completely new offensive and defensive system certainly doesn’t get mastered in 1 year.

      • You do realize he had two wins because wins were vacated, which has nothing to do with his defense. And our secondary was supposed to be a WEAKNESS this year???? Two potential All Americans an corner and a good core group at safety? A weakness? Lol. Some of the stuff you read on this comment section are totally devoid of truth, logic, and reality. Virtually everyone, fans, media, even the coaches thought the secondary was going to be a major strength. Too funny!

        • Ok my mistake, but you act like he had an amazing season otherwise. He still only won 7 games. You do realize the secondary is composed of more than 2 cornerbacks right? Who needs safeties when you can have your 2 corners cover the entire back end. Hilarious!! Sorry LT, but yes going into the season, besides Wilson and Henderson, there were a lot of question marks in the secondary, and everyone knew if Wilson or Henderson went down we’d be in trouble with the lack of depth. Nice try though! You’re right, there is a lot of comments that are totally devoid of truth, logic, and reality, most of which comes from you. Keep trying to shoot people down though, you’re certainly an expert at that.

          • Athlon ranked the ENTIRE secondary #3 in the country. Not just the corners. There is talent at safety too. And the you have Gardner- Johnson to throw in the mix who can play both positions. Not hard to shoot down obviously ridiculous statements like “everybody knew our secondary would be a major weakness”. That’s just one of the most obviously clueless statements someone could make. It’s absurd.

          • LT, Miami, Auburn, and Stanford were all ranked in the top 13 overall in the preseason of most publications, so I’m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make with preseason rankings, which year after year show how ridiculous they are. Athlon had FSU #13, Auburn #7, and Miami #6. Shows you how much they know. But I guess since they said they were great in the secondary, then it must be true, right? LOL!! Any Gator fan in their right mind knew we had some decent starters, but if a single one went down, which is inevitable, then they’d struggle big time. Having no depth, makes that positional group a weakness. I know it’s hard to wrap your head around since you clearly can’t see past the surface of anything. If you were confident in the secondary coming into the season, then that tells me all I need to know about your football knowledge. You’re really coming at me with preseason rankings as your argument? Talk about clueless! How do those rankings look now?

        • The Gators are ranked 21st in the nation in passing yards allowed. Bama is ranked 23rd. The preseason Athlon rating was pre-injuries, but the present stats aren’t ugly. I definitely agree that quick passes on short routes seem to have been a problem of late. Go 🐊🐊🐊

          • That 21st ranking in passing defense is more a credit to the defensive line pressuring the QB than anything. We’ve seen when they don’t get pressure, then the secondary gets eaten alive. They’re also 72nd against the run, so teams are running it more than passing it. Bama plays second and third stringers for pretty much the second half of every game, so their ranking is a bit skewed.

  6. Robbie, nice job of providing a warm fuzzy with second half stats from last week, but as we all know, every game is 4 quarters. I agree with mkfgator’s above observation that the defense benefited from the annual Muschamp 2nd half brain cramp, but I do agree that the defense was much better in the 2nd half. This team has twice come back to win after falling behind by 17-18 points in the 1st half, which is great, but that is playing with fire, as good teams will leave you in the dust. I do not believe we will beat FSU by playing only one half of good football. Despite their record, they still have a lot of talent and will probably come in fired up. Let’s hope that the coaches get the teams attention before the game starts and not wait until half time.

      • I am with you all the way Joe on wanting to see a beat down from the start. These come from behind games give this old Gator’s blood pressure a jolt! Not saying that the ‘Noles are a good team this year, but they do have a boat load of 4 and 5 star rated kids running around, so they should not be taken lightly no matter what their record this year is. As we have all seen over the years of this series, anything can happen, but I think that the Gators have a decided edge in coaching this year which will make the difference. Go Gators!

        • In a perfect Gestalt, the sum of the parts will equal or sometimes even exceed the whole. FSU’s problem is that the whole this year is considerably smaller than the sum of the parts. Put another way, they have the classic situation of indeed possessing a full six pack, but lack the little plastic thingy that holds it all together. If they ever find it, they could be very dangerous!

  7. ”Khairi Clark said. ‘When everybody’s doing their part, when we’re all together, we can (stop anybody).’ ”
    Well the last 10 quarters against UGA, Mizzou, and Carolina, Florida’s ‘D’ has had a very ”small margin of error” and it has showed. So players, please stop saying ”how good you all can be… ‘IF’ only.”
    I do wish Khairi Clark and all the seniors a great ”Senior day,” but please stop saying stuff like ‘IF’, and just go do it! Go Gators!

  8. Interesting point about half-time adjustments or the lack thereof. If a team (the Gators) plays poorly in the first half, but lights it up in the second half, it seems to be automatically assumed that there were major, brilliant adjustments made by the coaching staff. If the team continues to play poorly, the fans generally assume that the coaches made no attempt to adjust their game strategy. In truth, sometimes adjustments work and sometimes they don’t, so the lack of positive results isn’t necessarily an indicator that no adjustments were made. Sometimes all it takes is for players to simply execute better, and sometimes you just get outplayed by a better team.

    • Joe…Overlooking obvious adjustments that noone would miss, sometimes, as you say, the game turns and you figure the coaches figured out how to react–like a chess master, even if you’re unsure what was their wizardry. Some very successful gridiron coaches were known for making brilliant game-changing, (especially after half-time) adjustments, particularly on defense. Joe Paterno may have been the best at that ( albeit he’s infamous now). I’m sure that all coaching staffs value the importance of making adjustments, if making a change is what’s called for and possible. Grantham said none were needed against SC. He contributed the comeback to player execution. He should know, and–since the Gators won–he must be right.

  9. Coach said the problems on D are due to poor player execution. I believe our DC and find it amusing that Sunday morning coaches here have blabbered their theories such as communication problems and getting signals and plays too late from the sidelines. Turns out it’s all on proper execution. Nice try wannabe coach.