Defense: Florida Gators 48 – Kentucky Wildcats 10

Part two of what plans to be a four-part series. Check out the offense here.

The first item that has to be mentioned is the difference from one week to the next is the number of penalties committed by the Florida defense. The Gators only had five penalties for 45 yards total against Kentucky, and not all of those five were on the defense. Let’s hope the improvement from the last game to this one wasn’t a fluke and we’ll continue to see an increase in discipline by Florida on the field.

I watch games in a variety of ways and take notes throughout using numerous methods. When with friends, those notes are usually mental and then remembered during replays of the games the following day. When watching at home, they are either kept via Twitter or my trusty yellow legal pad. Saturday night was one of those legal pad nights and a note that I kept making was something to the effect of “good pressure from the defensive line.” We can say Sharrif Floyd was the missing piece and we may be right. Since Floyd’s return against Tennessee, the Gators have gotten into their opponents’ backfields much more often. The pressure provided by the front four has allowed the linebackers to roam almost freely and not provide as much blitz support because it’s needed. They can now do so as an added dimension to the defense. This time around it wasn’t just the four we’ve been mentioning since early in the offseason. Against the Wildcats, we also saw Omar Hunter provide plenty of push from the middle of the line. It may have been Hunter’s best game in quite some time.

It wouldn’t be a complete, or any sort of linebacker play, recap for that matter without mentioning Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, but for just a moment let’s look at the player who is quickly, and no longer all that quietly, making a name for himself. During the 2006 season, Brandon Siler played his heart out and was the leader of the defense both on and off the field. Behind him, a player wearing no. 51 was “learning the business.” It was an apprenticeship of sorts as Brandon Spikes was able to learn the college game from a great and then turn himself into one of the best to play the position at Florida. This season, Bostic has made himself the defensive leader. With every game, he seems more sure of his ability and is becoming another in a great line of Gator linebackers. Both he and Jenkins are providing examples of what the young linebackers can grow into. Much like five seasons ago, behind them, a player wearing no. 51 is “learning the business.” That player is Michael Taylor and Saturday may have signaled his coming out party. Bostic led the Gators with 10 tackles and also added a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. Taylor wasn’t far behind, finishing with six tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception which showed very quick reaction time from the young linebacker. We may have another star in the making.

Some statistics jump out at you and make you think “wow.” This is one of them. Kentucky completed 22 passes on 44 attempts. Numbers like that would make you think a team totaled more than 165 passing yards. The Wildcats did not. The Gators’ secondary – which has been questionable at times – held the Wildcats to an average of 3.8 yards. They may have given up 22 completions – although that’s not a bad number considering the 44 attempts – but they didn’t allow many yards. The long of the night only went for 29 yards. The secondary is still trying to find which two individuals will round out the top four consistently, but they aren’t giving up the big play. Some of the younger players are giving up a lot of room off the line when in a cover zone defense, but the big play isn’t happening. Even on the 19-yard touchdown pass from Morgan Newton to La’Rod King, you could argue that King gave Moses Jenkins a shove before making the catch. The secondary has room to improve, but are actually playing better than many may believe. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a while before they play another quarterback any would consider in the upper echelon of NCAA passers.

Causing turnovers is always a good thing and Matt Elam was in on the party with an interception in a second consecutive game. Taylor added his pick and the Gators recovered two fumbles, including one resulting in a Jaye Howard touchdown. Florida also turned over the ball three times, but when you’re on the positive side of that statistics, it’s usually a very good thing.

Four games into the season the defense is allowing nine points per game. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take it. We all knew what the Gators were getting when Will Muschamp was named the new head coach and now we’re seeing it in action.

Next up: special teams.

Florida Gators Defensive Backs – 2010 vs. 2011

The Bull Gator and I finish up the defense. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers.
2010: Ahmad Black – SR, Moses Jenkins – RJR, Will Hill – JR, Janoris Jenkins – JR, Jeremy Brown – RSO, Josh Evans – SO, Matt Elam – FR, Cody Riggs – FR, Josh Shaw – FR, Jaylen Watkins – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: C
Although I believe that the potential was there for them to be an above-average group, when looking back on the defensive backfield for the Gators in 2010, I decided to give the unit an overall grade of C. But really you could look at this unit as a tale of two stories with one half of the unit being outstanding and the other half being downright pitiful.
First, let’s start with the good, namely safety Ahmad Black and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. To say that these two guys deserve a grade of A would be an understatement as to how good they really were. Black had the most tackles on the team (108), the most interceptions (5), the most forced fumbles (3) and the most fumble recoveries (2). He also had twice as many unassisted tackles (73) than all but one other Gator (Jelani Jenkins – 41). Not to mention the leadership that he provided both on the field and in the locker room truly was immeasurable.
In 2008, the Gators won the national championship thanks in part to a freshman CB who found his way into the starting lineup on day 1 of the season and never looked back. By doing so, Janoris Jenkins became just the second true freshman in school history to start at CB on opening day. The stats for Janoris in 2010 may not be that overwhelming: 44 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 3 interceptions and 1 sack, but his presence on the field made the entire defense better. Opposing quarterbacks were hesitant to go to his side of the field, and more often than not, when they did he was there to make a big play.
Then you have the other guys. The combination of Will Hill and Josh Evans at the other safety position left much to be desired. I could go on-and-on about just how disappointing of a season/career Hill had, but I think we have all been down that road before. And the revolving door of Moses Jenkins, Jeremy Brown and Cody Riggs at the cornerback position opposite of Janoris (for the most part) was, to be nice, less than stellar.
With that said, we did see glimpses of hope in 2010, including Brown, Riggs and Matt Elam showing that they have the potential to be stars for the Gators somewhere down the line, but for the most part, when one half of your defensive backfield fails to live up to the hype while the other half struggles to make up for their teammates’ mistakes, you know you are in for a rough year.
2011: Moses Jenkins – RSR, Jeremy Brown – RJR, Josh Evans – JR, Matt Elam – SO, Cody Riggs – SO, Jaylen Watkins – SO, Josh Shaw – RFR, Jabari Gorman – FR, Chris Johnson – FR, Loucheiz Purifoy – FR, Marcus Roberson – FR, De’Ante Saunders – FR, Valdez Showers – FR
Preseason Rating: C
If you would of told me a few months/years ago that starting in 2011, the defensive backfield of UF would be Janoris Jenkins, Will Hill, Matt Elam and a second cornerback of your choosing, I probably would have said, “sign me up!” Unfortunately that won’t be the case for two major reasons. First, Hill thought he was going to get drafted into the NFL. Well, he didn’t. But this actually might be a positive for the Gators given Hill’s lack of production on the field. And second, Jenkins really liked to smoke pot. I mean really liked to! Therefore, he will have to finish his college career in the beautiful city of Florence. No, not that Florence, but the one in northern Alabama.
So what are we left with? Well, if you ask me (which you didn’t), I say we are left with a group of guys who have yet to prove themselves on the collegiate level, but who have all the talent in the world to be great players.
At the safety position, Elam is the only guy at this point that I can say is definitely a starter. I think Elam will have a great season, but I am really basing that more on hearsay and hopes than on actual on-the-field production. The other safety position is up for grabs right now. Some think that it’s Evans’ spot to lose. Others believe that Josh Shaw or Jaylen Watkins may sneak up and take the position. And recently, there have been discussions of De’Ante “Pop” Saunders moving from cornerback to safety in order to lock down that spot. Unfortunately all of these guys have fairly limited (or no) playing time at the college level and therefore the second safety spot could be a significant point of weakness for the Gators’ defense in 2011.
As far as cornerback is concerned, I have been shouting from the rooftops one name these past couple of months and I’m not going to stop now: Marcus Roberson!!! Look for Roberson to join Joe Haden and the aforementioned Janoris Jenkins as freshmen starters at the cornerback position for the Gators. Roberson may struggle in the beginning, but he will be very good, very soon. The second CB position has the chance to be reminiscent of last year in which there are a couple of guys rotating in and out at that position. Guys like Brown, Riggs, Moses Jenkins and freshman Loucheiz Puriofy all have a chance to play at that spot and could be called on periodically throughout the season to step up.
To grade the defensive backfield going into this season is almost impossible to do. There are too many variables, too many open spots still, and too many guys with talent but no experience. I truly think that we could look back a few months from now and easily give this unit an A and just as easily give this unit a F. But with the former defensive back Will Muschamp at the helm teaching these guys on a day-in and day-out basis, I think we might all be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

The Long Snapper (5/7/10)

USF added another piece to the 2010 recruiting class.  A big piece.  A 6’8” piece.  T.J. Knowles comes to the Bulls from Saddleback College where he had 49 catches for 924 yards and seven touchdowns last season.  The 245-pound receiver who has three years of eligibility left chose USF over Oregon State and Washington.  Knowles is said to be a good route runner, but his size is obviously his biggest asset.  With the loss of A.J. Love for possibly the season, any additions at wide receiver are welcome.  A target like Knowles should be extremely valuable to B.J. Daniels, especially in the red zone. has selected three Florida players to its preseason All-American teams.  New center/former guard Mike Pouncey – a second team All-American last season – was named to the first team.  Punter Chas Henry was named to the third (which really is a travesty considering Henry has been the best punter in the nation for the past few seasons).  And safety Ahmad Black was an honorable mention.  With a young team in terms of age and experience heading into the 2010 season, the three seniors will be looked at to lead.  Their performances on the field should be the first step they take in becoming the next leaders for the Gators.
Who will end up claiming the other cornerback spot for the Gators remains a questionJanoris Jenkins has one spot locked up and will hold onto it until he decides it’s time for him to head to the NFL, but the other side has plenty of competitors.  Many believe Jeremy Brown currently has the edge.  Brown, you may remember, actually outperformed Jenkins after their first few practices as freshman.  Since then, injuries have plagued Brown, but he may finally be back at full strength.  True freshman Joshua Shaw and Jaylen Watkins have also been impressive and both are expected to see plenty of time even if neither earns the starting spot.  Moses Jenkins is a consideration, but he’s probably a long-shot.  And finally, there’s Adrian Bushell.  Bushell may have had a chance to claim the position, but troubles pushed him down the depth chart.
Could Derek Dooley be any more different than Lane Kiffin?  Probably not.  Dooley is saying all the rights things.  He mentions hard work, discipline, and building a problem.  Nothing about other coaches, recruiting violations, pumping gas, or small towns in Florida.  While Kiffin wanted the spotlight, Dooley seems to be most concerned about cleaning up the state of the program both on and off the field.  And Tennessee fans seem excited.  Of course that could be just because he isn’t Kiffin.  But fans are ready for the next step of the program.  Good, bad, or ugly, the last few years are behind them and they are ready to move on.  Regardless of what Dooley says and does now though, he will ultimately be remembered for what the Vols do on the field during his tenure.
The Friday Fifth: Dont’a Hightower is already a good college football player.  When he’s done with his career at Alabama, he may even be considered great.  But is he the most exciting defensive player in the nation?  I have a lot of trouble naming someone who missed more than half of last season the most or best anything, but then again I don’t have a list of those I think are more exciting.  What other defenders out there vie for the title?
The List: A little of what you should be watching this weekend.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics – Game 3 (Tied 1-1) – Friday, 8:00
2. Chicago Blackhawks @ Vancouver Canucks – Game 4 (Blackhawks lead 2-1) – Friday, 9:30
3. Orlando Magic @ Atlanta Hawks – Game 3 (Magic lead 2-0) – Saturday, 5:00
4. Montreal Canadiens @ Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 5 (Tied 2-2) – Saturday, 8:00
5. Saturday Night Live – Betty White, that’s right! – Saturday, 11:30
6. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics – Game 4 (Tied 1-1) – Sunday, 3:30
7. Vancouver Canucks @ Chicago Blackhawks – Game 5 (Blackhawks lead 2-1) – Sunday, 8:00
8. And the New York Yankees visit the Boston Red Sox this weekend.
The Sixth Man: I’m a fan of Kenny Kadji.  I have been since he first signed with Florida.  Unfortunately, his career didn’t start out exactly like a fan would have liked it to.  He had some flashes during his freshman year, but struggled mightily as well.  Then the injury came.  Problems with his back caused Kadji to miss his entire sophomore season and led many to question whether he would ever live up to his promise.  He’ll have at least one more year to try to prove himself.  The NCAA granted Kadji a medical redshirt for last season.  He’ll enter the 2010-2011 season as a redshirt sophomore and have three full years left of eligibility.  Hopefully he’ll use them all because I still believe he can be an important part of the Gator basketball team.