Gators defense has record day against Seminoles

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Florida defensive linemen Jabari Zuniga (92) and Cece Jefferson (96) sack Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois during Saturday's game at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

TALLAHASSEE — Time and again, the Gators faced little to no resistance when it came time to pressure Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois.

Much had been made coming into the game concerning the Seminoles’ much-maligned offensive line, but Florida’s overall dominance up front was even more impressive considering how little the Gators blitzed Saturday.

“We had a great plan defensively, with the exception of an explosive play here and there and a couple of misalignments, really. Their tempo, they go fast with a lot of different formations,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “We missed one or two checks early, but overall I was really pleased with how we performed on defense.”

When all was said and done, the Gators emerged with a 41-14 win — the third-largest margin of victory in Tallahassee between the state rivals. The constant pressure forced Francois into a pair of interceptions, and the Gators sacked FSU’s quarterback five times. The performance put this iteration of the Gators in elite company, too; for the first time since 1997, the Gators finished the regular season with at least four games of five or more sacks.

“I think it’s heading in the right direction. We want to build a program that competes, not just for SEC, but for national championships every year. 9-3 regular season is solid. It’s a lot we can build off of,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to be a lot better this offseason than we were this year. If we want to be better than 9-3 in the regular season, we’re going to have to work a lot harder this offseason.”

In what would likely go down as defensive end Jachai Polite’s final regular season contest with the Gators, the junior made sure to leave a lasting impact. Polite, who entered the day tied for third in the FBS in forced fumbles, added his fifth of the season on a strip-sack midway through the third quarter.

“He always plays a great game. He’s probably one of the best pass — the best pass rusher in the country,” UF junior linebacker David Reese said. “It’s great to have that boy on our team, and he’s a guy that you just can’t replace.”

Furthermore, Polite’s 2.5 sacks gave him 11 on the season — the most for any Gator since Derrick Harvey posted 11 sacks as well in 2006 — and his 3.5 tackles for loss brought his UF total to 12.5 in 19 career games. And, to top it all off, the other highly regarded No. 99 in action Saturday — FSU star Brian Burns — didn’t add to his 10 sacks in 2018.

Florida’s defensive line seemingly saved one of its best games for last.

“(Our defensive) line played amazing. D-line took advantage of something that they felt was the strong point of our team, and that was going after their (offensive) line. That’s what we did,” junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “There was times in the game, if you watch, their O-line was going at each other.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome job GATORS!!! I can’t go to sleep after watching the LSU-TA&M game. So here I am. I wonder who we will play against in the bowl game??? If we don’t play OSU then I believe it will be Michigan. I never thought OSU would win that game after the way they have been playing. Ya never know. Anyway, our GATORS did extremely well and it should go a long way towards bringing in very good recruits. Who wouldn’t want to play for CDM after the way he lifted this team up and taught them how to win. We also have Jones for the bowl game now. 15 practices and some innovative play calling would go a long way to keeping the defense of whoever we play on their toes. Great win again GATORS, and now enjoy this win and get ready to kick some arse! GO GATORS!!!

  2. Happy to say my pre-season prediction for Gator season was a bit off. I figured Gators would be 6-6 and going to the Shreveport Plant Eater Bowl to face West Upsala State Teacher’s College (LOL). I had them losing to Tennessee, Miss. St., LSU, Georgia, FSU and South Carolina. Never been happier for being so wrong. And I’ll bet Gators would LOVE to play that Kentucky game now instead of September.

    • cat – I don’t believe any of us really expected the season would be so bountiful this year. CDM and his staff really know how to work that system and get these young men to enjoy playing football again. I foresee our program bringing in recruits that will fit CDM’s system. Remember he was successful this year with men from two other regimes. He knows how to funnel talent to get the very best out of his players. His hiring was long overdue! GO GATORS!!!