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Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin had a lot to smile about in Week 1.

Thursday September 5, 2013Gators Defense Braces for Stiff Test from Canes

Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin had a lot to smile about in Week 1.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The numbers did not lie. The Gators defense did its job.

In Florida’s season-opening win over Toledo, the Rockets’ up-tempo offense never left the launching pad. The Gators limited Toledo to 205 yards, forced seven punts and held the Rockets to 1-for-13 on third-down conversions.

If given the offer, the Gators would take those numbers against Miami on Saturday and feel pretty good about their chances of defeating the Hurricanes on the road for the first time since 1985.

Instead, Florida’s defense must earn them against a Hurricanes offense that last season averaged more than double (440.2 yards per game) what Toledo gained on a sweltering day at The Swamp.

Here is a number Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin likes: 3 The Gators get that many key contributors back for Saturday’s game.

Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, middle linebacker Antonio Morrison and reserve defensive tackle Darious Cummings will return from one-game suspensions. For Cummings, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, Saturday will mark his Gators debut.

Despite the trio’s absence, Florida’s defense looked in midseason form in stopping Toledo. The Gators’ performance put them atop the SEC in total defense and run defense (50 yards allowed) after Week 1.

“There [were] some times where it looked really well,’’ Durkin said. “Obviously, there's some things we need to clean up. I think our guys will continue to improve and get better and better. You know, we got some guys that are working in this week now that we didn't have last week. So, it's the same thing.

“We’ve got to get out there and play team defense and play our style and I'm looking forward to another opportunity to do that.”

Durkin emphasized he wants to see less penalties and “unforced errors” from the defense against Miami. Still, he sounded pleased at the unit’s overall performance.

Hard not to be based on those numbers.

Florida limited Toledo running back David Fluellen, who rushed for 1,498 yards last season, to 46 yards on nine carries. Fluellen’s 28-yard run in the first half accounted for most of that yardage.

The Gators have another talented back to stop Saturday in Miami sophomore Duke Johnson, who rushed for 186 yards in Miami’s 34-6 win over Florida Atlantic to open the season. Johnson has rushed for 678 yards in Miami’s last four games.

Something will have to give Saturday. In Florida’s last 14 games, only Georgia’s Todd Gurley eclipsed 100 yards against Florida’s stout defense. And while Johnson’s numbers are impressive – he has six career 50-yard runs – he has faced just three top-25 defenses.

In those games, Johnson rushed for 32 yards against Notre Dame, 27 yards against Florida State and 100 yards against Virginia Tech, which included a 65-yard run. Minus the 65-yarder, Johnson totaled 94 yards on 27 carries (3.5 yards per carry) in the three games.

Regardless of how you break down Johnson’s numbers, the player the Gators see on film is a dangerous one.

“He has great vision,’’ Florida safety Cody Riggs said. “You always have to be gap discipline with him.”

“That guy can put his foot in the ground and change the score on any down,’’ Durkin said. “He is a fast guy, a quick guy, a great change of direction. He finishes runs, he's physical, he runs inside the tackles really well, too. It's not like he's just a perimeter guy. He catches the ball well out of the backfield. He's the total package."

Miami quarterback Stephen Morris also will test Florida’s defense. Morris took over as the Hurricanes starter as a sophomore last year and threw for 3,345 yards – fifth-most in a single season for Miami -- and 21 touchdowns.

The Gators held Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens to 155 yards passing in 38 attempts. Still, Florida is prepared for a more polished passer in Morris under first-year offensive coordinator James Coley.

Morris isn’t short on targets. Receivers Philip Dorsett, Allen Hurns, Herb Waters and tight end Clive Walford combined for 12 receptions against Florida Atlantic.

“He’s experienced, No. 1,” Muschamp said of Morris. “Even though they hired James, they kept a lot of things in tact offensively that they were already doing. He’s very accurate with the football. I think he takes the ball to the right spots. He gets the ball to the playmakers’ hands. I think he’s one of the better quarterbacks in college football.”

The challenge for the Gators will be to mix Purifoy, Morrison and Cummings into the lineup and get the same results.

They also want to pressure Morris the way they did Owens. The Gators had eight quarterback hurries against Toledo, three each from Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell.

Linebacker Neiron Ball, who had three tackles in the opener, is confident the Gators defense will show up. The numbers might not be as impressive as they were against Toledo, but the result could be the same with another strong defensive effort.

“When we play together like that, we can shut down people,’’ Ball said after the Toledo game. “The talent is there, we just have to execute and make the plays when they are there.”

 

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