September 20, 2005

Strong picks right time, right blitz

Forget about the spread offense and all the weapons that Urban Meyer has to work with. Fifth-ranked Florida suddenly looks like a contender for the national title because of its dominating defense.

No one was really sure what to think of the Gators defense heading into the Florida-Tennessee showdown last weekend. Sure, it had shut down Wyoming and Louisiana Tech in the first two games, but that was to be expected. Plus, there were bigger, more exciting storylines to follow, like Meyer's first SEC game and Tennessee's two-quarterback system.

Don't count on anyone overlooking Florida's defense again. The Gators are allowing just 199.0 yards per game after their 16-7 win against No. 10 Tennessee in Gainesville on Saturday. The Volunteers, who have one of the most talented offenses in the league, were held to just 213 total yards and went scoreless in the second half. That's why Florida's co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is the Coordinator of the Week.

Strong didn't make any radical adjustments. But the veteran coach did put together a solid game plan and seemed to not only know just the right time to call for a blitz but just the right type of blitz to call for.

It started on the opening drive of the game. With Tennessee facing a third-and-2 from its own 26, Strong called for a safety blitz. Jarvis Herring quickly got into the backfield and sacked Rick Clausen for an 11-yard loss. It set the tone for the game and marked the third straight week that a player from the Gators secondary has sacked an opposing quarterback.

Later in the game, a pair of risky back-to-back blitzes sealed the win. With Tennessee in desperate need of a score, the Vols started a drive at their own 39 with 4:28 to play and trailing 16-7. Two plays later, on a second-and-13, heavy pressure from star linebacker Brandon Siler led to an Erik Ainge incompletion. Instead of dropping back into a prevent style defense for the next play, Strong called for an all-out blitz and Ainge was dumped for an 11-yard loss by linebacker Earl Everett.

Ainge then fired an incompletion well short of the chains on the fourth-and-24 to end any chance of a miracle comeback.

The Gators also managed to shut down running back Gerald Riggs in the second half. After running for 73 yards on 10 carries in the first two quarters, he managed just 13 yards on seven carries after halftime. Six of those carries went for two yards or less. According to Siler that was the key.

"When you come out and stop a team like Tennessee that you know is capable of running between the tackles all game, that's making a statement," Siler told the Washington Post. "That's what we came out to do. We knew we could do it. It was showing everyone else that we could do it, and that's what we did."

The performance was even more remarkable considering that defensive tackle Ray McDonald - one of Florida's top players - tore an ACL early in the game. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Here's were some other coordinators who did extraordinary jobs this past weekend:

• Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Ted Cain certainly deserves some props. The Commodores piled up 523 yards of total offense and didn't just rely on star quarterback Jay Cutler either. Yes, Cutler did the bulk of the damage, passing for 314 yards and running for 58 more. But, running back Jason Jennings proved to be an effective weapon, running for 103 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns. It was also the third straight week the 'Dores offense went for 400 or more yards.

• Who needs Norm Chow? It sure doesn't look like No. 1. USC does at the moment. With new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin calling the plays, the Trojans amassed 736 yards of total offense in their 70-17 route over Arkansas. The Trojans scored nine touchdowns on their first 10 possessions.

• Wisconsin's defense was humiliated in the Badgers season opener, allowing Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs to pass for 458 yards and five touchdowns. But, they looked much like the stingy, hard-hitting group that defensive coordinator and future head coach Bret Bielema took over last season in their most recent performance. The Badgers completely shut down North Carolina's ground game, sparking a 14-5 win in Chapel Hill. Tar Heel running backs James Arnold and Barrington Edwards had no room to maneuver, combining for 55 yards on 18 carries.

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