In a wild year due to COVID-19, one thing remains consistent: The lack of production from Florida Gators defense.
Although Florida is 7-1 and ranks sixth in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Gators can make a play at the College Football Playoff if they can win their remaining games against LSU, Tennessee, and should it be finalized on Saturday: Alabama.
As Chris Fallica aka “The Bear” from College Gameday points out, UF ranks 46th in the nation in defensive efficiency (per possession scoring value generated by the defense), by far the lowest of any playoff contender and it’s not even close.
The only top team that is relatively close to UF is Miami, who comes in ranked at 32nd in defense efficiency.
This stat is nothing but concerning, and it has been known throughout this season that most of Florida's question marks draw from the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, Florida has more than held its own, ranking third in offensive efficiency, only behind Alabama and Ohio State. Alabama is Alabama, while Ohio State has had much less of a sample size and plays against worse competition. Yet, the Buckeyes have still been incredible, scoring almost every time they have the ball.
Everyone is well aware of the firepower that the 2020 Gators offense has as it ranks easily as one of the top offenses in school history. Still, an underperforming Florida defense could stand in the way of a possible Heisman Trophy for Kyle Trask (if an SEC Title ends up being a deciding factor), and a shot at the College Football Playoff.
It’s now or never for the Florida defense, as it has two weeks to get things straightened out prior to an almost guaranteed matchup with SEC West foe Alabama in Atlanta.
Alabama has had its fair share of defensive struggles, but have found its footing since giving up 48 points to Ole Miss in week three. Both Georgia and Texas A&M scored just 24 points on the Crimson Tide, when the Gators gave up 28 and 38 points to each, respectfully. Not a huge difference, but it displays the gap between the two teams and where they currently stand.
As for Florida, it has seen the same problems occur defensively throughout much of the year: Explosive plays, given up in the run game and to unsuspecting quarterbacks.
Head coach Dan Mullen getting on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s case was a turning point in the Kentucky game and UF would hope that holds true for the season. "Rolling" more defenders through was one change that Mullen wanted to implement as he saw his defense getting torched at the beginning of the Vanderbilt game. Personnel has arguably been more of a problem than scheme, which is a relatively easy fix when you have the talent that the Gators have recruited since Mullen got to Gainesville.
Seniority often reigns supreme throughout the UF defense, an idea that must be changed before Atlanta. Young players such as linebacker Ty'Ron Hopper, STAR cornerback Tre'Vez Johnson, safety Rashad Torrence II, and others have flashed in limited reps for Florida, but are still on the sideline to begin games and more often than not.
To sum it all up, Florida’s defense has struggled and adjusted in games in response all year, but will we see enough adjustment to top the machine that is Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide? We will have to see these next few weeks. Florida cannot afford to miss its opportunity to take back the SEC from the exact team that took it from UF back in 2009.
Moving forward, the Florida defense should have no issue as the Gators face a 2-5 Tennessee team with a weak offense on Saturday, and a young LSU team littered with opt-outs and injuries the week after. In the next two games, rotating the younger, more talented players into the rotation is vital to get UF ready for the slugfest that should come on Dec. 19th.
Anything other than domination against the next two opponents would be considered a problem. Florida must be able to force stops and get the ball into their offense's hands to become a championship team. Turnovers can help too as Florida has caused a total of 13 turnovers in eight games, three of which came against the Wildcats last week.
The Florida defense has gotten better as the season as drawn on, but it is still a point of concern if it can be championship level.
Only time will tell, but we shall find out soon enough.