Florida Gators' top 10 defensive plays of 2020

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun

With the college football season now in the books, The Sun is looking back at Florida’s best plays from 2020. 

Here are the top 10 defensive plays last year. 

10. Tre’Vez Johnson’s pick against Kentucky

With a commanding lead in the fourth quarter, Florida had its backup defenders playing when freshman Tre’Vez Johnson made his first interception. He was in coverage at the STAR position as UK quarterback Joey Gatewood targeted receiver Michael Drennen II on a corner route. Johnson played it perfectly and undercut the pass, wrestling the ball away from Drennen as they fell to the ground. Johnson came down with the interception, Florida’s third of the game. 

Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) celebrates after making an interception in the second half against Georgia in the Nov. 7 game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

9. Kaiir Elam’s interception against Georgia 

Trailing 41-21 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs faced a critical third-and-10 just outside of UF territory. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett dropped back and tried to connect with receiver Jaylen Johnson, but overthrew him. Elam was matched up against Johnson and made a heads-up play, locating the ball and adjusting his body to make the pick. It marked the first interception of the season for Florida’s secondary and one of three Elam turnovers in 2020. 

8. Zachary Carter, Mohamoud Diabate sack against UK

The Wildcats marched into UF territory on their opening drive, but found themselves in a third-and-20 after a sack by Brenton Cox Jr. Starting QB Terry Wilson was sacked on third down for the second time in three plays, resulting in a loss of 10 yards and putting UK out of field goal range. Zachary Carter and Mohamoud Diabate combined to make the stop, with Carter splitting a double team and Diabate coming off the edge to converge on Wilson. 

Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) drives through the stiff arm of Missouri's Keke Chism to make a tackle during the Oct. 31 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

7. Brenton Cox Jr.’s tackle for loss against Missouri 

With just over five minutes to play in the first half, a holding penalty on Elam gave Mizzou a rare third-down conversion. Sensing an opportunity to strike, first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz dialed up a trick play on the ensuing snap. The Tigers ran a reverse to Keke Chism, who appeared to be looking to throw. Florida’s Brenton Cox Jr. spotted Chism in the backfield and contained the edge with an incredible pursuit, blowing up the play and bringing him down for a 15-yard loss.

Vanderbilt wide receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman is tackled by Florida's Ventrell Miller.

6. Ventrell Miller’s third-and-goal stop at Vandy 

With the game tied at 7 in the opening quarter, the Commodores were five yards away from taking a touchdown lead on third-and-goal. They ran an option left and pitched it to running back Ja'Veon Marlow, who was met two yards in the backfield by Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller. Marlow tried to stiff-arm Miller, but he wrapped him up by the ankles and made the tackle for loss. Vandy was forced to settle for three points. 

5.  Miller’s fourth-down pass breakup against Arkansas 

Miller makes the list again for another key stop in a 7-7 tie, this time against Arkansas. On the first play of the second quarter, the Razorbacks offense stayed on the field on fourth-and-1 from their own 49. Former Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was looking for Mike Woods on a slant, but Miller read Franks’ eyes and broke up the pass with his left hand. The turnover on downs led to Trevon Grimes’ go-ahead score. 

Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) reacts after a fourth-down stop in the third quarter against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game at  Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

4. Elam’s fourth-down stop against Alabama 

The Gators scored on their first second-half possession to cut the deficit to 35-24, but their defense had yet to stop Alabama. The Tide drove into UF territory on the ensuing series and decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the 38. Quarterback Mac Jones hit Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith on a crossing route, but Elam tackled him at the line of scrimmage for no gain. The third quarter against Florida was one of just two quarters all season where Alabama was shut out. 

3. Diabate’s interception against Kentucky 

It was still a two-score game with five minutes left in the third quarter when Diabate ended any chance of a Kentucky comeback. On third-and-9 from the UF 26, Wilson thought he had receiver Josh Ali open over the middle. Diabate, however, was spying on Wilson and jumped in front of his pass at the line of scrimmage. He snagged his first career interception and returned it 14 yards, setting up Kyle Pitts’ third touchdown catch in the 34-10 win. 

Georgia quarterback D'Wan Mathis looks for a receiver as he is pressured by Florida linebacker James Houston IV (41) during the second half of the Nov. 7 game in Jacksonville,

2. James Houston’s hit against Georgia 

On his second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Georgia’s backup quarterback D’Wan Mathis picked up 17 yards on a designed run. He rushed for two yards on a third-and-3 and picked up three more on fourth down, running over UF cornerback Marco Wilson. Mathis scrambled for his third carry in a row on the ensuing play, but it did not end well. After he escaped one of a career-high five quarterback hurries by Carter, Houston stopped him in his tracks with a huge hit. 

Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter scoops up a fumbled ball and will run it for a touchdown against Arkansas in the Nov. 14 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

1. Carter’s scoop-and-score against Arkansas

Carter put the Gators over the 50-point mark in the fourth quarter with his 35-yard scoop-and-score, the first defensive touchdown since Jonathan Greenard’s 80-yard fumble return in 2019. Razorbacks running back Rakeem Boyd fumbled a handoff from Franks and the ball bounced twice before Carter scooped it up and took it to the house. He was named SEC defensive lineman of the week for his performance against Arkansas, his second time earning the award in 2020.