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Florida defense exhibiting some positive signs

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller tackles South Carolina running back Deshaun Fenwick during Saturday's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Defensive end Brenton Cox has some advice for those who are fretting Florida's faltering defense will continue down its current path.

 Relax. Things are going to get better.

 "In the first two games, that was going to be a struggle," Cox said. "I feel like we have so much more to show on defense. We've got a lot of talented guys. The DBs, they're talented, we've got an older group starting and we're getting a lot of guys back, so we should show a lot over the next couple games."

 The first two games have been disappointments for the defense.

 Both performances followed a similar pattern with dissimilar themes.

 In both games, the defense played poorly early, was sound for most of the second and third quarters, then struggled to finish.

 Against Ole Miss, the Gators were decimated by big, chunk plays — eight of 20 yards or longer. Against South Carolina, the Gators were bled slowly and methodically by a ball-control offense that UF could not get off the field in the fourth quarter.

"One thing I’d love to see is to start faster (on defense)," UF coach Dan Mullen said. "If you look at the last two games, we've kind of started slow, completely shut them down in the middle, and then didn't finish at the end."

 Some may have overlooked this because of how much the defense struggled in the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks, but the defense did show improvement from week one to week two.

 Tackling was better. Third-down execution was much better. The chunk plays deep down the middle of the field were pretty much eliminated. The Gators gave up only two plays of 20 yards or longer. And the Gamecocks averaged just 4.0 yards a play after the Gators surrendered 7.9 yards a play to the Rebels a week earlier.

 After giving up a long, time-consuming drive to open the game, the defense dominated, as the Gators built a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter.

"We just executed and played with our intensity, played what we were supposed to play, did our job," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of the strong run in the middle of the game. "I mean there's no magic dust from that standpoint. It wasn't like it was an adjustment or a call, we just played the plays, understood what was happening and did what you're supposed to do. It really wasn't anything magical.”

 There wasn't anything magical about the fourth quarter either. The Gators were good on third down, but couldn't get stops on fourth down. As a result, the Gamecocks stayed on the field, driving the football and forging their way back into the game that wasn't decided until UF got its first fourth-down stop of the game from the 4-yard line in the final minute.

 "When you're up that score (38-14) it really goes into fourth-down game," Mullen said. "Middle of the third quarter they started going for fourth down, they were a four-down team. You have double, you have to make two plays to get off the field instead of one. So I think that's part of it, of, of how the game (played out).

 "(At 38-14) you're a stop, or a score away from the game being completely out of reach and a lot of backups playing. And that was disappointing that we didn't do that. We kind of started a little bit slow defensively, got into a rhythm and jumped out big, and then, instead of, 'Let's finish the game,' we just kind of cruised to the finish line. We've got to get that changed."

 Grantham said it's all about executing and having the mentality of finishing plays, drives, games. The Gators finished most of their critical third-down plays in the fourth quarter last week, but faltered on what became the more critical down — fourth down.

 “If you look, on third down in the second half we were eight of 10," Grantham said. "The issue was they went for it on fourth downs, so that’s where I tell my guys, you've got to have a mindset of like we’re in the NBA season right now and it’s game 7, you’ve got to finish people off. We’ve got to develop that attitude to understand the situation at hand and we need to be able to finish. I thought we did a better job of finishing plays last week, so now we’ve got to work on finishing drives and finishing the game the way we want to.

 "There's nothing that's really holding us back. We've just got to execute the call and do a better job."

Saturday

Who: No. 3 Florida (2-0) at No. 20 Texas A&M (1-1)

When: Noon

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850