Florida defense looking to bounce back from 'loss'

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Mississippi wide receiver Elijah Moore runs past Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam during the second half Saturday in Oxford, Miss. Florida won 51-35.

Usually, rebounding is something you’re looking to do after losses, not after a 16-point win on the road against an SEC opponent.

But, well, Florida’s defensive players are looking to rebound this week after taking what they consider to be a big L last Saturday in Oxford, Miss., in the Gators 51-35 victory over the Rebels.

“We won the game, but defensively it felt like a loss to us,” sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam said. “That’s not the Gator standard.”

Not, it’s not. Not even close.

The Gators gave up 29 first downs, 443 yards passing, 613 total yards and almost eight yards (7.9) a play. They had no answer for quarterback Matt Corral and his receivers, especially Elijah Moore, who had a career day Saturday — 10 receptions for 227 yards.

Saturday

Who: South Carolina (0-1) vs. No. 3 Florida (1-0)

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850

This did not even resemble a typical Florida defense.

And DBU? It was more like D-PU.

The defensive players obviously aren’t happy about it.

“Looking back on the film, I’m not going to lie, I was kind of pissed off,” Elam said. “Not because of my own film, but I know our defense as a whole, and I know how hard we practice and how hard we work. For us to go as far as we can, that wasn’t acceptable, and it’s just something we have to improve on, and it starts in practice.

“In the post, we’ve got to keep the ball out of there (on deep throws). I think that was our weakness in that game — missed tackles as well. I pride myself on not missing any tackles and I missed one. Going to review the film, unacceptable on my part. As a team as well, it's just unacceptable. It just starts in practice. The effort we give in practice is most likely going to show up in the game. Just got to step it up.”

The missed tackles, blown assignments and overall numbers certainly were abysmal, especially for a Florida defense, but UF coach Dan Mullen doesn’t seem the least bit alarmed. The defense will look, and play, different in Week Two against South Carolina, he said Monday.

With everything that’s gone on — and not gone on — due to the pandemic, the defense is going to have some catching up to do as the season progresses, Mullen said.

“I expect a much better defense,” Mullen said. “Normally at the beginning of the season, everybody is like, ‘OK, the defenses are great and the offenses are going to take a little time to catch up.’ Now that you have eliminated spring ball, when you eliminate the amount of tackling that you have done at this time and you expand this long training camp with the limitations that we had in it, I think it’s an advantage for the offense.

“This is what you are seeing. I expect us to make a really big jump from week one to week two defensively with tackling, the effort, with running to the football, with communication and making sure we are fitting everything properly. I think all of those things since we are kind of in a game mode, I expect us to be much better defensively this week.”

In Saturday’s game, the Gators were live tackling for only the third time since the Orange Bowl in December. With spring practice getting canceled because of COVID-19, the only other two occasions came in preseason scrimmages, the second coming almost two weeks before the opener.

So, the Gators were rusty on defense — and it showed in a big way.

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” Elam said. “We didn’t play up to par. I feel like it wasn’t on missing spring or anything like that. We didn’t play up to par. A lot of our players and coaches feel the same way. It’s just something we’re going to have to improve on.”

Mississippi running back Jerrion Ealy picks up yardage Saturday against Florida in Oxford, Miss.