October 28, 2006

Florida defense steals the show

Experts' blog
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The College Football Wire

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Ten years ago Florida won a football national championship with the 'Fun 'N Gun' offense, and this year the Gators' hopes for another crown clearly rests with a unit also worthy of a catchy rhyme.

The 'Run 'N None.' That is, running against the Gators results in no success. Well, most of the time, anyway.

The majority of attention in Gainesville centers on quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, an excellent group of receivers led by Andre Caldwell and coach Urban Meyer's version of the spread offense. But a suffocating defense which squeezes opponents' running games like a boa constrictor is without doubt the strength of this team a team on the verge of winning the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

The ninth-ranked Gators (7-1, 5-1) have held half dozen opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing and have surrendered just two rushing touchdowns all year. On a postcard-perfect Saturday at Alltell Stadium, the Gators emerged with a 21-14 victory over Georgia. The score never should have been that close.

"Thank God for great defense," Meyer said in a postgame press conference.

While he's at it, Meyer should also thank Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald, Marcus Thomas and Derrick Harvey, who routinely dominate up front.

Show me a solid defensive line and I'll show you a solid defense.

Moss had five tackles against Georgia. McDonald picked up a fumble and ran it in for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Harvey had three tackles, a sack and forced the fumble that McDonald took to the end zone.

Put productive defensive linemen like that in front of active linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler and the results can be staggering.

Georgia (6-3, 3-3) was certainly staggered.

The Bulldogs managed just 98 yards rushing, and that futility virtually wiped out any threat of play-action passes. For much of the game the Gators were able to rush without regard for the run and the result was four sacks and five forced turnovers.

"We stop the run. That's our main goal," Everett said. "We had a lot to come back from after the loss to Auburn. We knew we let them run the ball on us because we missed some tackles."

A few more tackles were missed against Georgia, but not many.

"Florida has a great defense," said Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed on 13 of 33 passes for 151 yards. "They were fresh early on and they were able to make some plays. (Reggie) Nelson is a ballhawk in the secondary, so we definitely had to keep an eye out for him. They are a great defensive unit that sometimes gets overshadowed because of their offense."

But why?

The Gators are pretty good offensively, but hardly powerful. Their highest scoring output in an SEC game was 28 points against Alabama, and the defense accounted for one of those touchdowns with an interception return by Nelson.

Indeed, the Gators' inconsistent offense allowed Georgia to stay in contention when a fourth quarter fumble at the 14-yard line set up a point-blank touchdown for the Bulldogs.

Aside from that fumble, Leak also threw an interception and the Gators were penalized 10 times for 75 yards.

"In six years (in this offense) I haven't seen anything like this," Meyer said of the turnovers, penalties and lack of production. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to start on it tonight. We didn't perform well."

The kicking game didn't help much either. Kicker Chris Hetland missed two field-goal attempts and has made just one of seven tries this season.

But when Georgia - needing a touchdown to tie - got the football at its 38-yard line with 4:53 remaining, the Florida defense stopped the Bulldogs cold.

Siler sacked Stafford on first down, and the next two passes were incomplete. After an ensuing punt, the Gators ran out the clock the remaining four minutes - which was the most help the Florida defense got all day.

Not that it asked for any.

"We came together as a defense in the third quarter and said the game is in our hands and we've just got to stop them from scoring," Everett said. "That's pretty much what we did. We just kept fighting and it came out good for us."

A lot came out good for the Gators. USC's loss to Oregon State will allow Florida to move up a rung in the BCS standings and enhance their chances of playing for a national championship.

That's a real possibility because the defense is playing so well. McDonald said they should have played even better against Georgia.

"We shouldn't have given up 14 points," he said. "Other than that, I felt we dominated up front. We played good defense, but we didn't play great because we gave up 14 points."

Obviously, the Gators have high standards on defense. That's also why they have a high ranking and high hopes for another championship.

For more coverage of Florida, visit GatorBait.net; for more on Georgia, visit UGASports.com.




 

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