Florida’s defensive front suffered a beatdown in Fayetteville last week.
The group, which features as much talent and depth as anywhere in the SEC, was manhandled at the point-of-attack and lost its discipline when rushing the passer.
On the ground, the group struggled to handle the different variety of gap concepts and line movement that the Razorbacks throw at an opponent. “We were pushed around,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said in the postgame press conference. That’s true. Arkansas looked and played more physical. But the Gators also lacked discipline and technique, all too often losing contain, taking poor angles, and over-pursuing.
Arkansas’ line set the tone early in the first quarter. Led by the SEC’s best center Frank Ragnow, the Razorbacks unloaded their entire package of sweep and counter plays.
On a second-down play, Ragnow and Brian Wallace (right tackle) pulled to the perimeter to out-leverage the Florida defense for a 16-yard gain.
A down block sprung Ragnow, who was able to get out in space and take on a linebacker. Ragnow made an initial block before flipping his hips to drive the linebacker back toward the middle of the field. Wallace kicked out, opening up a huge running lane for Devwah Whaley to pick up the first down.
Both Florida linebackers played with poor leverage. Jarrad Davis allowed Ragnow to control his pads and turn him inside, opening up a crease. In that spot, Alex Anzalone has to realize that, and dive inside on his block rather than try to control the edge.
Had Anzalone read the inside block, he could have forced Whaley to bounce the run to the outside. Instead, he contributed to opening up a cavernous running lane.
Even when Florida’s defensive line was in position to make plays, it missed.
Here, Taven Bryan beats the left guard off the snap and crashes into the backfield. Rather than sink down, or read the backfield, he over-pursues and gifts a running lane.
There was a similar lack of discipline against the pass. Outside of their clear physical talent, Florida’s pass-rushers have been impressive with their rush-lane discipline all season. They do a fantastic job of keeping the quarterback in front of them, balancing the line, and playing with quality leverage. They abandoned that far too often on Saturday.
Arkansas constantly moves the launching point for quarterback Austin Allen. It mixes the rhythm of his dropbacks, rolls him out, and uses a lot of pocket movement within a play-action game. That forces defenses to remain disciplined with their eyes; first locating the quarterback, then containing and compressing the pocket.
The golden rule for a pass-rusher is never to get stuck behind the quarterback. Getting too deep in the pocket forces an edge-rusher to loop, where the offensive tackle simply can guide the rusher around the edge and the quarterback can step up to avoid any pressure.
Maintaining depth and eye discipline are as critical as any physical trait. Against mobile quarterbacks, pass-rushers are usually more cognizant of their rush lanes. But it’s equally important against a drop-back system like the Arkansas’. With the launch point constantly changing, pass-rushers need to adjust their targets.
Early in the game, on a second-and-long, Allen takes a deep 7-step drop off play-action. Florida defensive end Cece Jefferson — going up against Arkansas left tackle Dan Skipper — fails to convert speed-to-power and loses the initial fight. As he continues to work, Skipper simply guides him around the corner, with Allen stepping up into a clean pocket to avoid any pressure off the edge.
Skipper forced Jefferson to “run the loop” and the pass-rusher ended up 8-yards deep in the backfield.
The issue plagued each member of Florida’s edge-rushing rotation in the first half. And the group failed to make any adjustments in the second half either, particularly struggling against play-action.
On a third-and-forever play, this time it’s Bryan Cox who gets too much depth rushing the passer.
Not only does he end up 4-5 yards behind Austin Allen as he releases the ball, he makes initial contact with the right tackle while he’s off-balance.
Throughout the game, Arkansas widened the pocket. And without enough interior pressure, Florida was relying on its edge-rushers to collapse the pocket from the outside-in.
Losing the physicality contest often annoys coaches the most (McElwain’s postgame comments confirm that). But the lack of fundamental techniques and discipline will be just as concerning to McElwain and his staff.