Last week, the big fear heading to The Swamp was a Tennessee offense that had put up big numbers and had big receivers.
Three points later, even the smart guys who thought the Vols could play with the Gators were silenced (Yes, I’m talking to you, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard).
This week, another offense with gaudy numbers comes to town. OK, so the most people Towson has played in front of this season would be a nice crowd for a UF gymnastics meet (8,811 if you’re wondering).
But quarterback Tom Flacco is legit, and the mighty Tigers are averaging 6.6 yards a play this season.
So it is another test for a defense that is putting up numbers that are elite. Kind of.
It has been a strange season so far. If I told you Florida would be 4-0 right now, you’d be pretty happy. But it turns out Miami and Kentucky have faltered since losing to Florida, and Tennessee-Martin can’t beat anybody (except, perhaps, Tennessee).
So you are still trying to figure out this team with its shiny new toy at quarterback and a lofty national ranking that nobody outside the Gator Nation seems to be happy with.
Now, a fan might argue this — because Florida’s team is built on defense, it doesn’t always look sexy in this video game world of college football.
And that fan might punctuate his argument with the statistic that Florida ranks 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency and 10th in the nation in scoring defense, which is the most important stat for defense on any league at any level.
A wise man with initials for a title once said, “Statistics are for losers and assistant coaches.”
But not that one.
That one matters. And it’s a big reason why Florida is 4-0. Two last-possession stops. Two smotherings. That adds up to four wins.
Which gets to the theme of this (well, it’s the theme now) about the 2019 defense.
1. Is it an elite defense despite so many injuries?
2. If it isn’t, can it become one?
“If we work,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “It’s really up to us to continue to work and develop. It’s up to us to see what we can do.
“We’ve just got to continue to play. It really doesn’t matter. Whoever is available is going to play. The bottom line is we’ve just got to find ways to win games.”
Yep, that’s the bottom line. There are no style points anymore in college football. Win and advance to the next game.
Let’s get back to the questions.
I don’t think Florida is playing defense at an elite level right now. Grantham’s defense has given up too many third-and-a-ton plays and has played against:
A freshman starting his first game. A back-up starting his first SEC game. And whatever that was the two Tennessees put out there under center.
Seriously, I think Flacco may be the best quarterback Florida has faced all season. But I digress.
I could give you a couple of negative stats like opponent’s long plays from scrimmage (43), but you’ve seen these guys play, right? What do you think? Is this an elite defense?
Right about now is when you say, “We’ll see.” Because we will. After today’s game with Towson, Florida faces an Auburn team that will force the Gators to play at an elite level because it won’t allow much on the other side of the scoreboard. And then an LSU team that found the turbo button for its offense.
And of course, there is Georgia, was off in the distance, scoring whatever it needs to win.
Yes, we will see.
I know this, Florida can’t be an elite defense without CJ Henderson. The cornerback is Florida’s best player. If he gets healthy, he not only is the man, his absence and other injuries have helped a depleted secondary fatten up on experience.
“The theory is injury creates depth, meaning that sometimes you play guys more than you would because you’re forced to,” Grantham said. “When other guys come back all of a sudden you’ve got a little more depth.”
So is Florida elite on defense? Not quite. But the Gators are really good, and they have been elite when it has mattered most.
Can it happen?
“We’ve done a good job,” Coach Dan Mullen said. “If we can get healthy, we could quite possibly be an elite defense. Hopefully, by the end of the year we will be an elite defense. I see guys getting better.
“So much is based on health in college football. Hopefully, we’ve seen the worst of our injuries and we just get healthier as the year goes on.”
Then, we will find out.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.