Fine-tuning Florida's defense over with top-ranked Alabama coming to town

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon (7) sacks South Florida quarterback Cade Fortin (6) on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

TAMPA — The ongoing dual-quarterback system may not be a distraction for the program, but it has kept the microscope off of Florida’s defense, which entered the 2021 season eager to improve on last year's so-so campaign. 

The Gators’ defense left Saturday's 42-20 win over USF feeling bullish on its prospects following the final tune-up before conference play. 

“I think we played well. I think it really just came down to being detailed in what we were doing, giving up a couple of plays here and there,” sixth-year UF senior Jeremiah Moon said. “I think we really got to lock in and focus on those details and I think we’ll be ready (for Alabama).”

It wasn’t a complete game, but that was never the plan. 

The Gators departed Gainesville with intentions of getting the reserves some valuable game experience, and that plan came to fruition in the second half after Florida built a 32-point lead by the midpoint. 

The gap between the teams allowed multiple Gators to make impacts, some for the first time; the highly touted Diwun Black recorded two tackles, his first bits of meaningful action with the program, and true freshmen Jason Marshall, Desmond Watson and Mordecai McDaniel all showed up on the stat sheet, even if their performances left some to be desired.

For many Gators on the roster, Saturday’s game was another step in the development process rather than an attempt to achieve perfection.

Though UF was ultimately outscored 17-7 in the second half by the Bulls while allowing 140 yards of offense, the Florida defense departed Tampa feeling optimistic about the current rate of improvement. 

The Gators believe they have all the ingredients. Now, with a visit from the top-ranked Crimson Tide looming, the time is nigh to combine them. 

“I didn’t think we played terrible. I mean, we gave up some points toward the end of the game, but that’s what I mean by we need to be more detailed,” Moon said, before listing areas the Gators can build on. “Just having our eyes right, and just being physical at the point of attack, and then I think everything will take care of itself.”

Though just voicing the desire to improve isn’t worth a plug-nickel — the Gators know they must take what they’ve learned from the second-half mediocrity and use it to their benefit. 

Otherwise, it’s no secret the issues of the first two weeks could be the team’s ruination. 

“Everything, we can improve on everything,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We played pretty solid defense in the first half. We had the one drive that I wasn’t real pleased with in the first half. Second half we came out in some situations, made some stops, made some mistakes defensively at the end of the game.

“Overall, do I like our attitude, our energy, our effort of what we played with? Yes. Did our guys take care of what they needed to, to win the game? Yes. Do we need to get a lot better? Yes.”