A well-documented weakness during the Gators season opener against Ole Miss was the secondary’s inability to contain the Rebels in the passing game.
Most notably, Florida was constantly unable to contain Rebels slot receiver, Elijah Moore. The dynamic playmaker failed to find the promised land in his first action under Lane Kiffin but torched an undermanned and underperforming Florida secondary for 227 yards on 10 receptions.
A large factor in the 600-plus yard outing for the Rebels, second-year defensive back Kaiir Elam had some choice words and thoughts about the outing.
“Looking back on the film, I’m not going to lie; I was kind of pissed off," Elam said on Monday. "Not because of my own film, but I know our defense as a whole, and I know how hard we practice and how hard we work.”
The same type of playmaking prowess can be seen within South Carolina’s receiver Shi Smith, making him a priority for the defensive unit to contain.
Smith, a senior for the Gamecocks, saw his own success in week one. Averaging 14 yards per reception on 10 grabs, Smith was utilized heavily by Collin Hill and the new SCAR offense with numerous targets over the middle of the field. The player that will likely be tasked with limiting Smith and providing the much-needed spark is none other than redshirt junior defensive back Marco Wilson, making him a very important piece in the attempted turnaround in the back.
As a result, Wilson is the Florida Gators X-Factor in their matchup with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Despite the apparent move back to the outside corner spot for the beginning of the 2020 season, Wilson saw 63 snaps at the STAR nickel position cornerback, and primarily shadowed Ole Misses Moore during the process.
Experiencing an up and down day in which he accounted for only three tackles while allowing Moore alone to catch three balls on five targets for 57 yards according to PFF, Wilson is being called upon to regain the reigns of a vulnerable secondary.
Wilson faces another difficult task in week two with Smith, who Wilson's counterpart Elam describes as a “very shifty receiver” that is “something we have to prepare ourselves for.”
If the Gators allow a similar amount of production from Smith—and the Gamecocks offense as a whole for that matter— as they did with Moore and Ole Miss last weekend, the panic button could and should be hit on this Florida defense. To ensure this isn’t the case, there is a need for Wilson to do more than just play the game against SCAR, but he will also be required to lead.
As the most experienced defensive back the unit has seen, Wilson is going into his third full year as a starter—after an ACL injury derailed his true sophomore campaign—the time to proclaim himself as a leader is now.
The common theme to this point defensive for Florida has been the turnover in terms of the starting roster. Losing Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga up front, David Reese II in the middle, and C.J. Henderson in the backend, each level of the defense looks for a new commander.
Wilson is the next in line to be that guy in the secondary, and this week against SCAR is his prime opportunity to prove to the rest of the unit he can be that leadership figure.
As a reliable figure that can be looked upon to improve the communication issues, Wilson is tasked with aiding the rest of the unit in coverage schemes, especially among more inexperienced guys like true freshman Rashad Torrence II as well as the rotating duo of Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill.
Another responsibility that falls on his shoulders is holding others accountable for the tackling woes that plagued the UF defense for the second season opener in a row. Wilson has the shot to turn around the unit for the better and take that next step in his progression as a ballplayer.
By bringing those attributes on Saturday, Wilson gives Todd Grantham’s defense the best chance to bounce back from a rough performance and build a strong foundation for the future of this season.