GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The phrase is one the Florida defensive players are very familiar with mainly because Dan Quinn wants them to be.
“Affect the quarterback,” the UF defensive coordinator says.
“It means get him off his feet,” Gators nose tackle Omar Hunter explained. “You don’t want him to be flat-footed in the pocket. You want him moving around and forcing him into bad throws. You want to get him out of his comfort zone.”
In the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 14-7 victory over Southeastern Conference rookie Missouri, the Gators were fighting to protect their seven-point cushion when the Tigers clawed their way to a first down at the Florida 24 five minutes into the final quarter.
It was time to affect the quarterback.
Next four plays:
• Incomplete pass.
• 11-yard sack, plus 5-yard intentional ground penalty.
• 9-yard sack.
• A punt on fourth and 30.
“Yeah, I’d say that’s getting him out of his comfort zone,” Hunter said.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin made some plays against the Florida defense in racking up 335 yards and 23 first downs (both well above UF’s 276 yards and 11 first downs). But if there’s any doubt Franklin spent most of his time in an uncomfortable zone, just check out his statistical line in the Tigers’ historic first trip to Florida Field.
Franklin completed just 24 of his 51 passes (47 percent) for 236 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions, including three in the game’s final 16 minutes -- and all in UF territory.
Throw in five sacks and a handful of knockdowns, too.
“We wanted to put our physical style on tape, whether that meant a big hit or an interception or a batted ball, things of that nature,” Quinn said. “Those are the things we try to do and emulate during the week. They made some plays on us -- made some big third downs -- but our guys never stopped fighting.”
Even facing a 7-0 deficit and nothing really positive going on with a UF offense held to just 111 yards and five first downs in the opening half.
“That's who we are. We do what we've got to do to win the game,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “Our guys don't panic. Our guys play the game. Our guys don't get flustered. They just play the game. They do what they are supposed to do. They play within the scheme.”
Against the Tigers, the scheme called for keeping Franklin from running wild and getting back to his Big 12 Conference ways when he finished 15th in the nation in total offense (3,846 yards) and accounted for 36 touchdowns.
Franklin came into the game still feeling some affects a knee sprain that kept him mostly sidelined for the previous three games.
Then came the affects of the UF defense.
“We just couldn’t get any completions,” Franklin said.
He threw three big ones to the Gators at crucial times.
The first came when Franklin sailed a pass high over the head of his intended receiver and into the gut of UF safety Matt Elam, who returned the play 42 yards. Four plays later, the Gators took their first lead of the game on a 45-yard Jeff Driskel-to-Mike Gillislee screen pass.
After that, all four Mizzou’s remaining drives entered UF territory, but ended either with punts or interceptions, capped by safety Josh Evans’ game-clincher in the end zone -- on a Franklin heave from the 21 -- with five seconds to go.
“Our job is stop ‘em, period,” defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “We rose to the occasion today and it feels really good.”
Muschamp said he likes to think of his defensive players as firemen.
“Go put the fire out,” he tells them. “I don’t care how bad it’s blazing, go put it out.”
They did it this time by affecting the quarterback.
All day long.