With ‘No. 40’ on his wrist, Miller vital in Gators dominant defensive performance

Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller (51) tackles Miami Hurricanes running back Cam'Ron Harris (23) during the first half Saturday of the Camping World Kickoff game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

ORLANDO — Again and again, Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham called for the defense to pressure Miami’s inexperienced offensive line.

And more often than not, redshirt sophomore linebacker Ventrell Miller was in the middle of the action.

Miller, who entered Saturday night’s 24-20 UF victory with a lone sack to his name, led all Gators with two of Florida’s 10 sacks on the night — the most sacks by an SEC team in a game since 2008.

“Young offensive line, young quarterback, so the plan was to get pressure on them,” he said. “And that’s what we did.”

Furthermore, the Lakeland native was one of Florida’s few reliable tacklers in what Gators coach Dan Mullen described as a tough performance from a wrap-up perspective.

“We had some missed tackles. But I’m going to tell you what: our guys compete. They competed and they competed and they kept competing and kept battling,” Mullen said. “It seemed like we had to win the game about four different times, but we continued to do that.”

For the 6-foot Miller, Saturday’s breakout performance was a longtime in the making.

But Miller didn’t show out for himself — he was doing it for former Gators linebacker Nick Smith.

A native of Orlando, Smith medically retired in January after appearing in just one game for the Gators. While life, and football, moves on, Miller is looking to make sure Smith isn’t forgotten.

“I had Nick Smith, his No. 40 on my wrist. I talked to him before the game, but I was basically just pointing at that 40 after my first sack,” Miller said. “I know he would have done the same thing.”

Miller admitted he was expecting to get a sack — a luxury Smith no longer can experience. Although it remains to be seen if Smith missed another frantic finish for Florida.

As the Gators looked to withstand several potentially costly miscues in the waning minutes, Miller was repeatedly seen turning toward the Florida sideline, and the contingent of UF fans in attendance at Camping World Stadium, to pump up the onlookers.

“To get the crowd involved, that’s a big thing,” Miller said. “When the crowd’s roaring, it just gives you more confidence that you’re going to come out and stop them the next play.”

Now, the season-opening victory in the books, Miller knows there’s much work still to be done if the Gators hope to meet their lofty preseason expectations. And from the sound of things, Miller won’t let Smith down.

“Our tackling, the next play. We need to go out and fight (next game),” Miller said. “No matter what happens, we’re going out next play and fighting.”