With Georgia match-up looming, Florida's defense returns to form at right time

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida linebacker Brandon Cox Jr. (1) tackles Missouri receiver Jalen Knox during Saturday's game against Missouri at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

As kick-off commenced, it was apparent earlier reports regarding Florida’s depleted secondary were true. 

The Gators were without starting defensive backs Shawn Davis, Donovan Stiner and Marco Wilson on Saturday against Missouri, leading UF to make some alterations in the backfield. 

Before they could occur, however, many already postulated the Gators were about to be shredded through the air, considering Florida’s starters had allowed 338 passing yards the last time out against Texas A&M — and that was with a normal week of practice opposed to UF’s ramp-up week prior to facing Missouri. 

Said speculation couldn’t have been more off-base. 

Florida’s defense limited the Tigers to register just 208 passing yards, although the final stats don’t tell the full story; aside from the final two drives, where the Gators had secured the win and opted to give reserves valuable experience, one could make the case UF’s defense was dominant Saturday. 

“It was a big win. We tried to come out and play together and really try to make a statement. And really, we just had to come out and play as a team. We all had to communicate. We had to talk, and that’s what we did,” Brad Stewart, making the start in place of Wilson at the Star position, said. “We practiced like that all week, and y’all seen the result.”

Florida didn’t allow Mizzou’s offense to score a touchdown prior to the final two drives, as the Tigers had just 172 yards of total offense by the time UF had built a commanding 34-10 lead. 

And the Gators were able to get off the field consistently on third down, too, which wasn’t a given coming into the contest after allowing the Aggies to convert 12-of-13 third-down attempts and 1-of-1 fourth-down. The Tigers were successful on just three of their 15 attempts on third down as a result of Florida’s strong defensive play, which Stewart said was a motivation throughout the week after the unit was largely cited as a primary factor behind UF’s early-season loss.

“We definitely had a bad taste in our mouths from Texas A&M and that definitely brought leaders out tonight, guys that didn't show that leadership before. That bad taste in the mouth that Texas A&M left, that game, what we put on film, that wasn't us. We didn't play together,” Stewart said. “It was important for us to go out there and play for our coach, coach Grantham. To play better. We had to really bond together this week and really play as one.”

After a two-week stretch where countless shots were thrown their way, the Gators defense responded with a show of force that quieted the doubters and subsequently turned the conversation toward UF’s upcoming match-up with rival Georgia. If the Missouri contest was a return to form, the Gators know the battle with the 'Dawgs will require a similar if not more-refined showing — Florida did register a season-high eight penalties for 65 yards after all — from the defense. 

“Georgia, they’re a big obstacle. We’ve got to play together. We got to play as one. We all got to be on the same page, really. So, starting tomorrow, we’re going to work on that, just like how we did this week,” Stewart said. “We’re going to work on being a team and playing together, and hopefully, we can come out with the dub.”