10 Year Challenge: Comparing Florida's Defense to 2009

Ainslie Lee

In continuation of the offensive 10 year challenge, Florida’s defense has seen its fair share of change as well. 

Though, maybe it isn’t as significant. When taking a close look at how this year’s defense compares with the Gators defensive unit in 2009, there are a couple of surprises. 

Defensive Ends 

Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham were the starting defensive ends for the Gators in the 2009 season. 

Both Dunlap and Cunningham entered the 2010 NFL Draft, where they were both picked up in the second round, after impressive careers at Florida. In 2009, Dunlap nabbed 38 total tackles and nine sacks. Meanwhile, on the other end of the line, Cunningham didn’t fall too far behind with 34 total tackles and seven sacks. 

As a unit, the stingy 2009 Florida defense held their opponents to an average of 99.8 rushing yards a game with just 3.1 yards per carry. Fast forward to 2019, and the Gators’ team stats aren’t significantly different. Florida’s current defensive unit is holding opposing teams to just 113.3 yards per game on the ground with a 3.4 yards per carry. 

The big name for the Gators this year has been the former Louisville Cardinal, Jonathan Greenard. The grad-transfer pickup has proved to be an excellent addition to the Florida defensive front. Through nine games (two missed with injury), Greenard has netted 46 total tackles with six sacks. 

Heading into the 2019 season, a duo including Greenard and Jabari Zuniga looked as fierce as any pair of ends in the country. However, unfortunately for Zuniga, the redshirt senior has seen action in just five games due to a lingering ankle injury. 

Last season, Zuniga had 45 total tackles with 6.5 being sacks. Had Zuniga seen more action this season, he would have undoubtedly led him and Greenard to winning this 10 year challenge. But unfortunately, the injury bug ruins it for this year’s pair of ends. 

Linebackers

The main matchup here is between Brandon Spikes and David Reese II. And coming into this, I thought for sure that Brandon Spikes would be the go-ahead winner here, but the stats are actually eerily similar. 

Spikes was obviously a very loud player. Not necessarily literally (though he could run his mouth), but Spikes was just boisterous. Meanwhile, Reese likes to fly under the radar. And it shows. 

Would you believe me if I told you that Reese has more tackles in his college career than his 2009 counterpart? 

Not to mention, Reese has played in less games than Spikes did. However, for the sake of this argument, we will focus on 2009 and 2019. In 2009, Spikes had 68 total tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions -- both of which were returned for touchdowns. This year, Reese has 81 total tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. 

So, based on those two years’ stats alone, Reese wins this one. I know, I’m surprised, too. Could watching hours of film change my mind? Probably. Was Spikes the better-minded football player? Maybe. 

But on numbers alone, from 2009 to 2019, David Reese II wins this 10 year challenge for himself. 

Defensive Backs

There’s the DBU debate, and then there are the debates within DBU. 

So, this one won’t be easy. 

For the sake of time, I’ll take the two best DBs (by the numbers) and put them head to head -- one cornerback and one safety from each squad. In 2009, Florida’s leading corner was, without question, Joe Haden. The eventual first round pick contributed 68 total tackles that year with four interceptions and three sacks. 

This year, C.J. Henderson leads the Gators as a true cornerback. There has been a lot of rotating in the depleting secondary, but Henderson never wavered from his cornerback position. Through eight games this season (three missed with an ankle injury), Henderson has contributed 26 total tackles, three for a loss and not a single interception. However, in Henderson’s case, the lack of interceptions is a good thing. 

Simply put, no one is brave enough to pass his way, and when they do, they pay for it - the junior has tallied 10 defended passes. Henderson rarely gives receivers a step on him. 

I’m glad I’m not picking between cornerbacks alone, because this is a push. 

In safety land, I’d say Ahmad Black and Shawn Davis is the 2009 vs 2019 matchup. While 2009 wasn’t Black’s standout year, the junior still managed to record 70 tackles in 14 games. However, he only came away with one takeaway despite seven interceptions the year before. 

As for Davis, who has been a pleasant surprise in Gainesville, his junior year has brought on 44 total tackles and three interceptions. 

So again, this is a matchup that brings very different stat-lines. What do you value more, tackles or takeaways? I think that’s a relatively subjective question. So, in order to put this discussion to bed, I’ll bring in the team stats for both of these units. 

In 2009, the Florida defense held opponents to 152.8 passing yards per game and quarterbacks only completed 52.5% of their passes against the Gators. This season, Florida is allowing opponents to gain an average of 193 yards through the air and opposing quarterbacks are completing 59% of their passes. 

So while the top performers for both squads have similar stats and talent levels, collectively, 2009 had a better defensive back unit as a whole. So, the defensive backs of old win this 10 year challenge. 

Unlike the offensive comparison, the Florida’s current defense looks a lot like their decade-old counterpart on paper. And I think it all comes down to depth for this year’s squad. In a year that has seen a slew of injuries, finding the right places for defensive backs has been a game of musical chairs. 

Not to mention, Zuniga and Greenard were rarely on the field together -- something that was bound to be a nightmare for opposing offenses. But, nonetheless, aging caught up to the Gators in this comparison. 10 years did its toll.

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