Coaches and players usually refer to opposing players by number rather than name. That being said, Florida’s defensive players have been watching a whole lot of No. 7 for Georgia on tape the past two weeks.
No. 7 finding a seam where there doesn’t appear to be one, then streaking through it and into the open field.
No. 7 breaking one tackle, two tackles, three tackles, then planting his foot in the ground and making a cut that sets him free.
No. 7 taking a short pass out of the backfield and turning into a long, game-changing touchdown.
No. 7 for Georgia, of course, is D’Andre Swift, one of the fastest and most dynamic running backs in college football. And he, No. 7, has Florida’s full attention heading into Saturday’s game in Jacksonville.
“Everything revolves around Swift,” senior rush end Jon Greenard said. “If he’s going, they’re going to keep feeding him. If he’s not, they’re going to find a way to get him the ball and get some other playmakers involved.
“Everything goes through him. He’s a dynamic player, one of the best in the country. We’ve just got to rally to the ball, tackle, put all 11 hats on him, make him feel us, make him feel uncomfortable. It’s going to be a tough one. He’s not going to give in easy. We’re not going to give in easy. It’s going to be a fun one.”
It may be fun, but probably not fun fun. More like difficult fun, challenging fun.
The fast and elusive Swift (what an appropriate name for what he does) leads the SEC in rushing with 754 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s averaging 107.7 yards a game and almost seven yards (6.9) a carry. He’s also caught 13 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown,
When he rolls, the ‘Dogs roll.
The Gators know all about that. Swift burned them for 104 yards rushing and a touchdown in last season’s 36-17 Georgia victory.
“He was a great recruit out of high school,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “He plays with speed, he plays with power, and he has the quickness to go make you miss. He’s an extremely talented guy.
“If you’ve got one guy there, he can make the one guy miss. Or he can run him over or he can run away from him. You’ve got to bring a bunch of guys to the party if you’re going to tackle him.”
The Gators will be welcoming two important players (Greenard and fellow end Jabari Zuniga) back to the party this week, and that’s a good thing for a run defense that has been spotty without them.
When Greenard and Zuniga have been on the field together this season, the Gators have given up just 1.6 yards a carry. Without one or both, that number has soared to 4.2 yards.
In the last two games, without both, the Gators have given up an average of 217.5 yards rushing.
“Anytime you lose guys like that, it can affect you in everything you do,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
The hope is that the run defense will be stout again with the return of its two best run stoppers/pass rushers.
Even with Greenard and Zuniga back in the lineup, the Gators are facing a huge challenge trying to slow down or contain Swift. Few defenses have been able to do it. Even the team that beat Georgia this season couldn’t. Swift ran for 113 yards and a touchdown in the 20-17 overtime loss to South Carolina three weeks ago.
“The big thing with him is he’s got really good acceleration,” Grantham said. “He can run through tackles. You’ve got to make sure you bring your pads and bring your feet, and you’ve got to take the air out of the hole, you’ve got to shrink it and give him less room to run because he’s a guy that can make the first guy miss.
“He can put his foot in the ground and change direction. He’ll run where you’re not. Playing defense against a guy like that gets down to team defense and making sure that we set the edge, build a wall and compress the running lanes to where he doesn’t have as much space to run the ball.”
The Gators also are going to have to contend with Swift the receiver. He’s equally dangerous playing that role in the Bulldogs’ balanced attack.
“He’s a guy that they try to get the ball out of the backfield,” Grantham said. “Anytime you have a guy that has his kind of speed and athletic ability, if he can catch just a simple option route in the flat, he can make a guy miss and turn it into a double-digit gain. So, obviously, we’ve got to be aware of that and account for that. Be ready to play a good team.”
Should the Gators get run over — or around — Saturday, they’ll have the number who hit them.