Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s goal for his defense going into every game is fairly simple and succinct.
Play to your identity.
That identity is fast, physical and aggressive. When the Gators play like that, good things tend to happen (or bad if you’re an opposing offense). Sacks. Tackles for losses. Turnovers.
So far this season, the Gators have played to their identity, but one aspect of their overall production is lacking a little bit. The fast, physical, aggressive play is not yielding turnovers at the usual rate.
The defense has forced only one in two games.
But Grantham doesn’t seem concerned at this early stage of the season.
“We’ve just got to keep (playing),” he said. “We had six on the ground against Miami. So if we get half of them we’ve got four. We’ve just got to continue to play and when they go on the ground we’ve got to get to them and get it. Just play.”
The Gators have come up with only one turnover, but it’s certainly a quality one: true freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam’s interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter against UT Martin on Saturday night.
“I thought the interception we did have was a great, great play by a young player,” UF coach Dan Mullen. “It was against, I think, their top wideout — you get those things where he’s an NFL prospect; he’s on people’s board — and just great technique and fundamentals. For a freshman corner to go make that interception, it was a great play.”
Like Grantham, Mullen doesn’t seem worried about the lack of turnovers by the defense, or the fact that the Gators are currently tied for 12th in the SEC in turnover margin at minus-two. UF finished last season at plus-12 in turnover margin.
The Gators stand on the negative side through two games thanks to that four-turnover performance by the offense in the season-opening win over Miami — two interceptions and two fumbles. UF’s only other forced turnover was not produced by the offense, but by the special teams when Van Jefferson recovered a muffed punt in the UM game.
The Gators were much better overall in the second game against UT Martin. The offense took care of the ball (no turnovers) and Elam produced the first turnover for the defense with his one-on-one play in the end zone.
“We didn’t turn the ball over. I think that’s probably attention to detail on our part,” Mullen said. “Not really concern for UT Martin, but better attention to detail by us. If you look at our turnovers in the first game, it really wasn’t caused that much by what Miami did as much as our lack of attention to detail.”
On the defensive side, the Gators did force six fumbles in the UM game, but failed to recover any of them.
So, playing to their identity is working for the defense. The turnovers aren’t there yet, but everything else is. The Gators are second in the SEC in total defense and lead the league in sacks with 15. They’ve also already piled up 26 tackles for losses.
And UF is coming off a shutout performance in which the Gators held UT Martin to just eight first downs and only 194 total yards.
“The guys really did a good job of executing the game plan and playing to our identity and making plays when they had to,” Grantham said. “Kaiir had the one pick there when they got in the red zone. And then guys just kept playing. The thing I liked at the end is some of the guys that were kind of done for the night were cheering and coaching up the younger guys. Anytime you can get that kind of leadership from your team it’s a good thing.”
Pitching a shutout is a good thing, too.
“It’s real hard (to shut a team out),” Grantham said. “Two things: One, offenses are good now. Two, when you talk about playing 31 guys in a game, that’s a lot of guys.
“Sometimes when you get a lead like that, sometimes guys’ focus won’t be maybe what it should be and you can kind of let up a little bit. But the biggest thing I liked was the older guys that were done were into the game, coaching up the younger guys and kind of encouraging them. So that part was a positive end.”
As for the lack of turnovers, the defense is going to keep working on that aspect of its game.
“Really, what we’ve got to do to get more, we’ve just got to be more aggressive,” junior safety Shawn Davis said. “We’ve got to be more aggressive and just keep our guys on the ball.”
Who: No. 9 Florida (2-0) vs. Kentucky (2-0)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lexington, Ky.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850