With the Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC) in the middle of their bye week, it’s a good time to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked through seven games.
We started with a breakdown of the offense. We move on to the defense today. Here’s our take on the unit …
MVP: Jonathan Bullard. After returning to Florida for his senior season, Bullard is doing it all. He spent the majority of his first three seasons at defensive end, but he has accepted the challenge of moving to defensive tackle this year. The position change hasn’t hurt Bullard. The North Carolina native has recorded 34 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks through seven games this season. How do Bullard’s numbers compare to other top players around the country? He’s tied for 27th nationally with 1.4 tackles for loss per game.
On top of those impressive numbers, Bullard is rated by Pro Football Focus as the most prolific run-stuffing defensive tackle in the nation through seven weeks. It seems like his move to defensive tackle is going well.
Biggest surprise: Antonio Morrison. This guy suffered a serious knee injury less than 10 months ago. Now, the senior linebacker has played in every game this season and leads the Gators with 54 tackles and has totaled seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. After posting a team-high 98 tackles in the regular season last year, he’s on pace for 92 tackles in the regular season this year. It’s amazing that his production hasn’t taken much of a hit after the injury.
Morrison’s best game of the year came against Ole Miss on Oct. 3, when he finished with 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss to earn the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week award. This is pretty incredible stuff from a guy who wasn’t even expected to be available for part of the season this year.
Biggest disappointment: Secondary. Let me start this with a disclaimer — this is based on the expectations surrounding Florida’s secondary. The group entered the season, referring to itself as “DBU” or “Defensive Back University.” But the Gators’ secondary hasn’t lived up to those high expectations it put on itself, as it ranks 40th nationally with 197.9 passing yards allowed per game this season. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has not played up to his usual standards, getting beat for a deep touchdown pass on a flea-flicker last week against LSU. Safety Marcus Maye has struggled in pass coverage, and cornerback Quincy Wilson has been beat for at least two touchdown passes this season.
The secondary is definitely still one of Florida’s strengths, but it just hasn’t been elite this season. If you’re going to call yourself “DBU,” ranking 40th nationally against the pass isn’t going to get it done.
Looking ahead: Overall, the unit has been good this season. Florida’s defense ranks 22nd nationally in total defense, allowing 314.4 yards per game. It’s been especially good at creating havoc in the backfield, ranking 16th nationally in tackles for loss and 17th nationally in team sacks. With the Gators’ depth on the defensive line, that trend will continue over the final five games of the regular season. But Florida doesn’t have the same depth at the linebacker position. Getting linebacker Alex Anzalone back from a shoulder injury will be important for the unit. Anzalone is not expected back soon, but it’s possible he could return before the end of the season. Expect for the Gators’ defense to continue to be the strongest unit on the team. The defense has been far from perfect, but it’s still one of the most talented defenses in the country.