Tuesday September 4, 2012Gators Defense Still Waiting to Turn Things Loose
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Florida defense was amped up and ready to get after Bowling Green in last weekend's season opener.
But the Gators, specifically the defensive line, never figured a game of football would turn into a game of hot potato. That's pretty much how Falcons quarterback Matt Schilz treated the game.
You've heard of one-, two- and three-step drops? Bowling Green mixed in some no-stop drops. Lots of 'em.
As a result, a phase the Florida football team figured to be a strength this season -- a defense with nine starters back from a unit that ranked eighth in the country in yards allowed -- never really got out of the gates.
"We'd waited nine months to hit a quarterback and then we get out there and he's getting the ball and firing," junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said of UF's 27-14 home win against the Falcons. "All we could do all day was put up our hands. We're still waiting to hit a quarterback. We're hungry to hit a quarterback."
The next dinner bell rings Saturday when No. 24 Florida (1-0) faces Texas A&M (0-0) in the Aggies' historic Southeastern Conference debut at iconic Kyle Field. The debut will be two-fold, actually, with the curtain rising on Coach Kevin Sumlin, who did some tremendous things on offense at the University of Houston before bolting last winter for College Station.
As the triggerman in Sumlin's spread attack, redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, in his first collegiate game, figures to hold the ball longer than Bowling Green's -- but maybe not much longer, given that Schilz thoroughly frustrated the Gators with his ball-in, ball-out approach.
"It's hard to predict because we haven't seen this quarterback, but we know the style they like to play -- with what we know about the scheme -- has been fast," UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "And we know that he can get it out of his hand fast. I still think if we can get into third downs that we favor, yeah, it becomes a different game than last week."
"But you can't get it out much faster than they did last week."
For Florida fans, it must have felt like Bowling Green was on the field all day; especially when the Falcons, down just three points, drove to the UF 23 early in the fourth quarter before cornerback Marcus Roberson came up with a timely tipped-ball interception.
Despite completing just 48 percent of its passes, Bowling Green ran 79 offensive plays, 16 more than Florida ran on offense.
Yet, the Gators possessed the ball six-plus minutes more than the Falcons.
"It stinks running 10 yards, then having to run 10 more," said defensive end Dominique Easley, who managed UF's lone sack of the day. "There were no steps."
Just a simple "catch it, throw it," as Gators coach Will Muschamp called it.
"You've got to play some man to try and deny those situations and play better on the line of scrimmage to deny those situations," Muschamp said. "They did not feel they could consistently run the football, so that's their answer to the run game: throw it quickly, try to get a missed tackle, and a 4-yard gain becomes an 8- or 10-yard gain."
Bowling Green's longest completion went for 22 yards. Schilz didn't hold it long enough for anything deeper to develop.
"You gotta get some reward for your work," defensive end Lerentee McCray said. "We never got that reward."
Texas A&M might give them the chance to earn one.
If what Sumlin did at Houston is an indication, the Aggies are going to spread things out with three- and four-wideout sets and sling it around, but probably with lots of short stuff (those catch-and-throws) that will serve the same purpose as a running game.
The key, for both the UF defensive players and coaches, is to avoid getting too frustrated if the splash plays in the offensive backfield aren't coming.
Think bigger picture.
"When I get into games like that I ask myself, 'Are we still affecting them? Are we getting hits? Are we moving the guy off the spot?' " Quinn explained. "The fact that [Bowling Green's QB] was under 50-percent completion told me he wasn't able to stand back there and throw it. Our sack total wasn't as high as we'd want, and they did a good job of moving the pocket at times, but when you face a team that goes quick like, that those are challenges in your hands."
And the frustrations.
"I don't want to go through another week like that," Floyd said. "We've been waiting too long and turn things loose."