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The Gators seek to affect the quarterback in a negative way on every snap.

Friday October 4, 2013Sacks Are a Bonus -- Affecting the Quarterback a Mission

The Gators seek to affect the quarterback in a negative way on every snap.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They talk about it every week. They study ways to make it happen. They practice the concept over and over.

A primary goal for the Gators' defense each game can be summed up in three words: affect the quarterback.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin use the expression repeatedly.

"It is a big factor,'' sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. "We're not too hung up on sacks. As long as we hit the quarterback and get pressure on him, that's all we care about.

"They get rattled, and that helps us out."

The Gators had only four sacks in the first three games. They racked up five in last week's win over Kentucky.

On Saturday the Gators host Arkansas, which leads the SEC in sacks (15) and fewest sacks allowed (three).

Fowler and Co. like the sacks -- he had two against at Kentucky -- but they aren't as obsessed with them as fans and stat geeks or the next-door neighbor who equates a good pass rush by the number of sacks a team has.

Muschamp takes into account several plays that don't show up on the stat sheet when watching film to determine if Florida's SEC-leading defense impacted the quarterback in a negative way.

"I look at resets, batted balls, disguising and getting the quarterback out of a bad check into a bad run front or into a bad coverage,'' Muschamp said. "Those are all things [to consider] when I talk in terms of affecting the quarterback. It's not just about hitting the quarterback. It's about how many times we put him in a bad situation, whether it's in the running game or passing game.

"When you come out of a game and you see the quarterback hitching the ball, you see him holding onto the ball, you see him getting rid of the ball early when he shouldn't be, you know you've affected the quarterback in the game -- and they know."

When asked to provide a specific example this season, the former defensive coordinator quickly referred to a third-and-10 play in the season-opening win against Toledo.

The Rockets were at Florida's 28-yard line when quarterback Terrance Owens lined up in the shotgun. Owens, already skittish due to early pressure, took three quick drops and threw the ball before his receiver ever had a chance.

Muschamp pumped his fist on the sideline.

"We were in a four-man rush and they were in a smash concept, which is a hitch-and-corner route,'' Muschamp, in full coach mode, said. "The ball was delivered to the hitch ... the ball was thrown before the seven route even had a chance to develop. I said on the headsets, 'we've affected this guy now. He is getting rid of the ball when he shouldn't be.' "

The Gators enter Saturday's game atop every major defensive statistical category in the SEC. Florida is limiting opponents to 202.5 yards per game -- 53.5 yards rushing and 149 yards passing. Florida also leads the league in pass defense efficiency, allowing opponents to complete only 48.8 percent of their passes.

That dominance starts up front.

As Durkin stood behind his desk this week with a remote control in his hand aimed at a large video screen, he fired off rapid explanations of five plays this season when Florida's defense didn't record a sack but affected the quarterback.

At first glance, in some of the plays it appeared the quarterback simply threw the ball away or made a bad pass.

However, in Durkin's world something happened far beyond an incomplete pass or interception. The quarterback remembered a previous hit, or sensed the pressure prior to the snap, forcing a quick -- and bad -- decision.

Pretty soon, after a couple of replays filled with explanations, you could see the plan all come together the way the Gators envisioned.

They affected the quarterback in a negative way.

The five plays are included in the video above. The first is the third-and-10 play Muschamp referenced in the Toledo game. The next two are interceptions from the Tennessee game.

And finally, the last two are from last week's win at Kentucky when Wildcats quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith unloaded the ball before they should have because of previous pressure.

Here is Durkin describing how Florida affected the quarterback on each play:

Play 1 -- Toledo trails the Gators 10-0 in the second quarter and is driving when Owens takes a shotgun snap and fires and incomplete pass in the direction of receiver Dwight Macon, who is covered by Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson at the top of the screen. Dominique Easley gets some late pressure on the play and nearly pushes a lineman into Owens as he releases the ball.


You see [quarterbacks'] mechanics change sometimes after they have been hit several times. So now they are not stepping in and throwing the right way, they're not following through the right way. They are getting rid of the ball quicker than they would like to, before the timing of the route had developed.

On this particular play we don't have great pressure, but throughout the game we were hitting him and hitting him. He's not stepping into the throw. He is stepping sideways. He didn't have good mechanics and the ball sailed on him. When a guy doesn't step up on a throw sometimes, he is kind of short-arming it because he has been getting hit - he's not consistent with the delivery or the accuracy of the ball.

Play 2 -- Tennessee quarterback Nate Peterman is in the shotgun with the Vols facing a third-and-15 at their 44-yard line in the second quarter. Peterman never looks comfortable as defensive tackle Damien Jacobs starts to intrude after the snap. Peterman throws a pass that is tipped by Gators linebacker Michael Taylor and then intercepted by Brian Poole.


You look right here, he's not following through. This guy, we hit quite a bit in this game. You can see he's feeling the edge pressure and he wants to step up but he can't because we are doing a good job of restricting the pocket. We spend a lot of time with our guys -- we want to take that pocket and squeeze it on him. If that means someone wins a one-on-one, great, but at the end of the day we want the pocket shrunk. As you can see, he can't step up and deliver a good ball. He wants to step up here but he can't. He can't follow through. Look at his arm. Where does the ball go? It sails high, a pass deflection and an interception. If Dame [Jacobs] right here went and made a pass-rush move on this guy out there, he can step up in a clear pocket and he's playing catch. He can step up and make a throw and it's seven-on-seven (a drill in practice where there are no offensive or defensive linemen). We don't want this to be seven-on-seven. We want this to be mayhem in front of that guy.

Play 3 -- The Vols are driving at Florida's 27 and face a third-and-9. Florida is showing pressure with five players up front and linebacker Antonio Morrison coming on a delayed blitz. Peterman drifts awkwardly outside the pocket and is hit by Morrison as he throws. However, the ball slipped from Peterman's hand right before Morrison arrived and was intercepted by defensive tackle Darious Cummings.


We are bringing the pressure here. Pre-snap, he is feeling us. We're Play 27 into the game and he's been peppered a couple of times. We send a pressure look and he knows it. He's looking at it. You can see his eyes right there [move around]. He knows there is some pressure coming so immediately into the snap he's got happy feet. He's drifting away, saying 'something is coming.' They send the protection to the pressure and kind of pick it up there. Antonio is just adding on. Really, before Antonio hits him, the ball slips out of his hand. That's just a matter of he's not comfortable back there. We don't want that guy to feel comfortable back there. We don't want it to be a seven-on-seven game like at practice when there is no line and he just stands in there and delivers the ball on routes. That's what offenses want to make the games and we don't want to allow that. We want these guys to disrupt what he is doing and it leads to a pick.

Play 4 -- Kentucky faces second-and-10 at its 25 when Whitlow takes a shotgun snap and throws an incompletion toward the sideline to Jeff Badet. Gators safety Cody Riggs came off the edge to help force Whitlow to make a quick throw.


Cody is playing nickel and we bring him up. The back comes to pick him up but it's a good job by Cody not to run past the quarterback. A lot of times you see an edge rusher go with his back blocked and he ends up [on the high side] and the quarterback can then either step up and throw or scramble. We want to keep that quarterback inside and in front of us. He presses that out and finishes it. Again, [the quarterback] has got to deliver the ball before he wants to, before he is ready. It's not a great pass, not an accurate pass. We are able to break it up.

Play 5 -- The Wildcats face fourth-and-4 at Florida's 30-yard line in the second quarter. The Gators have only three down linemen up front. Smith is in the shotgun, takes the snap and quickly fires an incompletion in the direction of receiver Ryan Timmons. The Gators take over on downs.


We had gotten into this look a couple of times in the game, down into this bare-front look and giving them pressure. We are actually not bringing pressure right here. We are showing pressure and just rushing four. Antonio is just going to his back and in coverage. We are playing our pattern-match coverage and just showing pressure. Here, he actually has more time. But he's getting rid of the ball because he feels that pressure. He saw us in that bare front, and it looks like pressure, and we're dropping out and go cover. Anytime we are getting pressure and affecting the quarterback with four guys, that's huge. That helps you. Basically, you can see we're playing three guys [defenders] over two [receivers], three guys over two in coverage. If you have to start adding guys in the rush to pressure the quarterback, obviously you can't play coverage that way. It's just a matter of numbers. By us being able to get pressure with four or showing pressure and rushing four, we can still maximize our guys in coverage on third down, and in this case, on fourth down.


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