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Gators looking to recapture defensive standard

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) blocks a pass by Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral during the first half Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

There are some plausible excuses for Florida’s stunningly poor defensive performance against Ole Miss last Saturday. If you choose to go there. Todd Grantham does not.

“At the end of the day you have to be honest, we made too many mistakes and we didn’t play to our standard,” the UF defensive coordinator said. “Right, wrong, for whatever reasons, it doesn’t matter. You are who you are. We didn’t play to the standard we played the last couple of years and just made too many mistakes.”

Those 35 points, 613 total yards, 443 passing yards, 29 first downs, 7.9 yards a play and 14 fourth-quarter points?

No excuses. For any of it, for all of it.

“I don’t think you ever make excuses for anything that’s out there,” Grantham said. “You look to get the job done, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve just got to go execute the game plan and understand you have a role within each call and play to your role. That’s what we’re going to do.

“When you look at it, it really got down to we didn’t finish. Whether it was we didn’t finish a play that created an explosive play or we didn’t finish a series. Really, that’s the end of the deal, we didn’t finish plays, whether it was an individual play or a series.”

The Gators weren’t their usual sound selves Saturday.

They gave up third-and-longs. They gave up huge chunk plays in the air and on the ground. They gave up quick touchdown drives. They gave up long touchdown drives. They had no answer for Matt Corral and the Ole Miss passing game.

What happened?

For those who choose the excuse/explanation route, here you go:

Between the Orange Bowl in December and Saturday’s game, the Gators had only tackled twice, in two preseason scrimmages. And tackling was clearly an issue against the Rebels.

The Gators had three starters missing for undisclosed reasons — tackle Kyree Campbell, buck end Jeremiah Moon and safety Brad Stewart.

They went down four starters early in the game when safety Shawn Davis was ejected for targeting. From that point on, the secondary was shredded in the passing game.

UF played multiple young players, including several true freshmen, and they seemed to have problems with assignments and on where to line up when the Rebels went up tempo.

Those factors/explanations can’t be totally discounted. But the bottom line is the Gators simply did not play well, certainly did not play up to their high standard on defense.

“We made too many mistakes and didn’t finish and play to our standard,” Grantham said. “To be a good player, you have to always critique yourself and look at the things you did well and the things you have to improve upon. 

“We do that every week. Whether we win or lose, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to own it. The biggest thing to me is moving forward, playing to our standard and understanding that we must play better. That’s been the focus this week, to play better.”

There are some positives to build on.

Ventrell Miller’s play (15 tackles, SEC defensive player of the week) should alleviate any concerns about replacing the production and leadership of David Reese at middle linebacker.

Many young players, including Georgia transfer Brenton Cox and true freshmen Gervon Dexter and Rashad Torrence, saw significant playing time and flashed their potential.

And, maybe most import of all, the Gators played with effort.

Overall, though, the Gators simply didn’t get it done on defense — and that has led to many coachable moments on the practice field and in the film room this week.

“We just didn’t play well enough, whether it was a fundamental error, whether it was a lack of execution, whether it was leverage on the ball, just finishing,” Grantham said. “We just didn’t do it. It is what it is. You’ve got to own it. The biggest thing to me is how do we respond and get better. I don’t think you can ever use anything as an excuse. You got to find ways to get the job done and that’s what we’re going to do.

“You show them the plays that are acceptable, then you show them the plays that weren’t. The big question is why? Why can’t I finish this play? Why can’t I secure my gap? Why can’t I secure my leverage? Why can’t I stay in the deep part of the field? We’ve just got to get better and that’s been the focus this week. You’ve always got to own it. You’ve got to understand where you are to get where you want to go.”

Saturday

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

When: Noon

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

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850