Film Study: Florida Gators LB Mohamoud Diabate’s Speed and Versatility
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
As a strong defensive force last season—ranked ninth in the nation in total defense per NCAA.com—the Gators defense prided themselves on getting after the passer, a mantra defensive coordinator Todd Grantham implemented when he first stepped foot in Gainesville.
With talented players in abundance among the defensive front seven in 2019, opportunity came few and far between for true freshman Mohamoud Diabate, but he did the most with those opportunities.
As a former four-star prospect out of Auburn, Alabama, Diabate fits the mold as a hybrid outside linebacker that sees time rushing the passer and playing a more traditional off-ball linebacker role at 6-3, 215 lbs. Mixing desirable traits of athleticism, speed, and overall versatility, Diabate is serviceable in coverage and can be reliable in the run game when needed.
Still, he shows the most comfortability getting after the passer.
Accumulating 14 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 186 snaps, his production vastly surpassed his usage, especially as a pass rusher.
Seeing 77.4% (144) of his total snaps at the BUCK rush end, Diabate accounted for the second-most quarterback pressures (21) on the team, only trailing the Houston Texans third-round draft pick Jonathan Greenard (46) on far fewer pass-rushing snaps.
With a smaller frame that can at times put him at odds against larger and more powerful offensive lineman, Diabate relies heavily on his speed and explosiveness as well as his length to win the battle in traditional pass-rushing situations.
In the 2019 regular-season finale against Florida State, Diabate exemplified both the speed and explosiveness in one of the Gators’ eight sacks on the evening.
Already leading the Seminoles 40-17 in the fourth quarter, Diabate lines up on the near side of the field with James Blackmon in shotgun formation.
With six pass blockers to four rushers, Diabate fires off the ball when it’s snapped, quickly getting to the outside shoulder of Florida State’s left tackle. Using his length exceptionally well, Diabate quickly stabs the tackle with his right hand to create separation before bending around the outside to bring down Blackmon on 3rd and 18.
Given the versatility Diabate possesses, there is an added factor that the opposition must account for. With the thought of him dropping back into coverage always being an option, Florida’s defensive coaching staff uses that unpredictability he brings to the table rather well.
On occasion in 2019, Diabate would delay his pursuit to the quarterback slightly to show as if he was dropping back into coverage.
With that slight hesitation at the line of scrimmage, he was able to throw off the entire offensive blocking scheme, giving him a free shot at the quarterback. As a result, there were a few times where Diabate would explode up the gap, track down the quarterback and bring him to the turf with little to no impediment.
For instance, in this play against Vanderbilt—a team in which Diabate had a career day against, recording three sacks and a forced fumble—he lines up on the outside of the formation.
Showing great patience when the ball is snapped, Diabate allows for the inside rusher to move to stunt to the outside while kicking back about a yard from the line of scrimmage.
Recognizing that the gap is open, Diabate explodes up the middle into what seems to be a rather clean pocket for Vanderbilt quarterback Deuce Wallace.
Given the subtle difference in pace from the rest of the pass rushers, Diabate can blow past the offensive line to track down Wallace before he can escape the pocket on a delayed rush orchestrated to perfection.
On the contrary to his patience exemplified when the play began, Diabate is able to turn on the motor at a moment's notice to begin pursuit on Wallace who, by the time he realizes he needs to escape, is unable to getaway.
Later in the same game, he is once again able to create pressure on Wallace, but this time, he comes untouched from the opposite side of the field, forcing a fumble that is returned for a touchdown by Greenard.
With Florida showing blitz to begin the play on third and goal, Grantham elects to send six players in the pass rush.
Firing off the ball at the top of the screen, Diabate comes in hot around the edge of the offensive line untouched to the quarterback. With Wallace realizing late that he has to get the ball out of his hands, he attempts to throw to the right side of the field.
However, Diabate shows superb anticipation of the throw by attacking the throwing arm of Wallace, knocking the ball to the ground, and allowing Greenard to extend an already sizable Gators lead.
With a rare combination of patience and aggressiveness that can be turned off and on with the flick of a switch and a defensive scheme that plays into his hand so perfectly, Diabate projects to be a true threat for the Gators in the near future.
Exemplifying traits of anticipation, explosion through gaps, and speed off the edge, he has flashed signs of excellence that directly translate to a star in the making.
With the low number lemons he received this season, he consistently made himself lemonade. However, with the departure of guys like Greenard, Jabari Zuniga, and even David Reese II from the Florida front seven, expect that number to go up and for him not just to be making more lemonade but setting up a stand in the neighborhood.