Photo credit: University of Florida Athletics Associaton
The Florida Gators defense wants to be aggressive, at least that's what Florida Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham wants the program to be on the surface, and on paper.
Last Saturday, Florida played several coverages, often pressing the opposing receivers with its defensive backs, something that Grantham says will be the primary call for his defense throughout the season.
"We're going to play press pretty much majority of the time," Grantham said on Monday.
"Now sometimes based on splits and things like that you may not press, and you've got to be able to handle that, so that's why it's important that you have, we always say 'tools in your toolbox' relative to alignments and formations that you can play tight coverage."
Grantham's logic here is to respect the accuracy of quarterbacks, playing tighter in coverage will inevitably lead to fewer windows for opposing QBs to hit their target. Of course, there are situations that dictate off-ball coverages, especially in third-and-long situations, however.
The Gators secondary has become oft-criticized by a large contingent of Florida fans over the years, especially after one of the worst performances in Florida history in 2020 when Florida ranked No. 100 in pass coverage.
The problem many have had has been due to Florida's propensity to play off in coverage in short-yardage situations, often leading to first downs for the opposing teams.
The issue arises when a team bunches up their receivers, leading to rub-routes being called and suddenly a player will be wide open as a result. The reality is, there is a healthy medium and Florida players and their coaches will have to adjust on the fly, or mid-play if need be.
"You know, when you get up and press a guy it’s going to be based upon splits and things like that so that you don’t get rubbed," said Grantham.
"If you tell a guy to go play man and there’s a guy within close proximity, offensive guys like to use the word rub but in reality, they’re going to pick you. So you gotta have tools within your defense to be able to handle those mesh routes and those rubs, as they like to call them, to be able to play tight coverage.”
Against Florida Atlantic, the Gators gave up just 261 yards passing, allowing only five out of 12 third downs to be converted. Half of the Owls' first downs would come via the air, but the team rushed for just 92 yards on the ground, compared to Florida's 400.
Overall, Florida did a sound job at defending the pass against FAU, with their quarterback completing just 57% of its passes.
Moving forward, the Gators will have to show that it will have an ability to become a more assertive team in pass coverage, even when something may dictate playing a little off in coverage.
Having the ability to create tighter windows and trusting your cornerbacks to stay with the opposing receiver will inevitably lead to more incompletions and turnovers. Playing softer will lead to a lot of frustration, which is why Grantham says the team's mentality is to play more press than not.
Time will tell whether or not that holds true throughout the season.