Gators defense looking to replicate second-quarter dominance against Alabama

Zach Abolverdi
The Gainesville Sun
Florida defensive back Rashad Torrence II (22) and defensive lineman Zachary Carter (6) combine to bring down Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. (4) last Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

After surrendering 52 points in the SEC Championship Game, Florida’s defense was determined to hold Alabama to less in Saturday’s SEC opener. 

But through the first quarter, the Tide were on pace to outscore their output in Atlanta. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead and stunned the sold-out Swamp. 

With sure tackling, it could have been 13-3 after the first. UF defensive back Tre’Vez Johnson missed a tackle at the 7-yard line on the Tide’s first score, and on the third, star cornerback Kaiir Elam missed a touchdown-saving tackle at the 5. 

“If I would have made that tackle on the goal line, and held them to three points, I feel like that could have changed the game right then,” Elam said Monday. “I need to do better in practice, open-field tackling. I think Tre’Vez missed one as well, that they scored off of. I feel like we just need to focus on that and executing the play call.”

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The Gators flipped the switch in the second quarter and dominated defensively. Alabama was shut out with just 3 total yards of offense and three consecutive three-and-outs. Elam and Johnson broke up back-to-back passes on one series, Elam had another PBU and then Johnson made a third-down stop. 

Florida linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) almost intercepts a pass Saturday against Alabama at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“We really just came together as a whole defense and decided that what had been going on the first quarter, it was time for that to really cease,” UF safety Rashad Torrence said. “And we just couldn’t allow that to happen any more as a defense. So when we came to the sideline after those three quick touchdowns, we decided enough was enough.”

Alabama opened the second half with consecutive 13-play scoring drives, but Florida’s defense made a crucial goal-line stand on the second series to force a field goal. The Gators scored their third touchdown in a row on the ensuing possession, but couldn’t convert the two-point try to send the game to overtime. 

Gators defense makes a stand

“You look at that goal-line stand and their grit to play that,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said of his unit. “The biggest thing I took from the game was the guys stuck together, they continued to work, and really from the second quarter on they executed and did what we asked them to do, so gotta give them credit for that. … It took us a little bit of time to settle in and play the way we feel like we’re capable of playing. 

“To win a championship game like that, it’s attention to detail, and how do you make one or two more plays relative to the score of the game? What was it last year? Six points. This year, two points. So, as we continue to close, how are we going to make those plays? … Because, really, that was the difference in the game. There were a couple of other things, but if we are able to maybe tackle a little bit cleaner we can make one of those touchdowns a field goal, it doesn't really matter.”

UF's run defense on point vs. Bama

Despite some tackling issues, Florida’s run defense had a superb performance last Saturday. The Gators became just the third team since 2014 to hold Alabama under 100 yards rushing (91). 

“Our guys did a good job of understanding their fits and where they needed to go,” Grantham said. “Quite honestly, I fully expected us to play that way. We just got to maybe start a little faster, and we’ll work to execute a little bit better in a couple of areas. 

“But from a run-defense standpoint, I really did, honestly, expect us to play that way, based upon the front guys that we had, and the way that we tried to create the matchups for those guys to block us.”

With just 324 yards allowed, the Gators held Alabama to its lowest total yardage in a game since 2018 vs. Mississippi State (305 yards). They also snapped the Tide's nation-leading streak of games with 400 yards of offense, which now belongs to Florida. 

“That’s a great stat, but we still lost,” Torrence said. “So, I feel like that stat is only something we can put in our back pocket and say, ‘OK, we did it once. There’s no reason why we can’t do it for the remainder of the season.’ It just shows our potential.”

Added Elam, “It just shows us that (if) we execute Coach Grantham’s play call, we can be very dominant. But when we have mental errors and missed tackles, I feel like that can be detrimental to us winning the game. As you guys see, we lost by two points. … What’d they have, 3 yards in the second quarter? I feel like if we do what we need to do and just keep listening, the sky’s the limit, but it’s all up to us.”

Florida coach Dan Mullen was also bothered by the missed tackles and third-down penalties, which kept several Alabama scoring drives alive. But if Grantham’s unit can replicate the way it played in the second quarter and consistently stop the run, the Gators could find themselves in Atlanta again by season’s end. 

“I thought we played well. I thought Todd put our guys in a good position to make plays. I thought our guys really ran to the ball hard,” Mullen said. “But again, too many missed tackles, especially some on the perimeter early in the game. That really kind of hurt us. But once we got into the speed of the game, I think we really played physical up front and were able to control the line of scrimmage. 

“You look at the game and some of our errors, our inability to get off on third down, whether it was through them getting penalties to stay on the field or a missed tackle or a missed assignment on third down and red-zone misses defensively. But overall, when you look at the defensive performance as a whole besides little things we gotta get cleaned up, which you’re not going to win big games making those mistakes. But there’s a lot we can build off of in a positive manner from things we’ve seen. If we can clean up the errors, we have a chance to have a pretty good defense.”


Who: Tennessee (2-1) vs. No. 11 Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC)

When: 7 p.m.

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


Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM