GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee has a new defensive coordinator this season in Bob Shoop, giving Florida something extra to prepare for heading into the Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown between the No. 19 Gators and No. 14 Vols.
Shoop, formerly the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and then Penn State, is new to Tennessee and new to this rivalry, he isn’t new to Gators coach Jim McElwain.
When Shoop started at Vanderbilt in 2011, McElwain was still the offensive coordinator at Alabama and spent part of the summer preparing for that game by studying tape of Shoop’s defenses from his time previously at William & Mary.
Those notes and more have been pulled out of McElwain’s archives this week as he’s worked to get his Gators ready for their first big test.
“I’ve got so much respect for this guy, Bob Shoop,” McElwain said. “I actually go all the way back to when he was at William & Mary. We played him when he was the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and I had to spend the summer as a new opponent, new staff when we were at Alabama, studying the things this guy had done. I’ve become a huge fan of his. We’ve gone back to some of those things, gone back to Coach Spurrier’s 2013 game (with South Carolina) against Vanderbilt as well, just kind of trying to see exactly what he does.”
Tennessee (3-0) comes into this game ranked 39th nationally in total defense, yielding an average of 336.7 yards per game so far, and 35th in scoring defense while giving up 18.7 points per game.
The Vols have not been exactly smothering against the run. They’re tied for 71st in the country, allowing 152.7 rushing yards per game.
With Austin Appleby taking over at quarterback this week for injured starter Luke Del Rio, and with the way Florida (3-0) has committed to its four-headed rushing attack, it’s a safe bet that the Gators will lean on their ground game Saturday.
Stats aside, though, McElwain is simply impressed with Shoop’s approach on defense, as he has made clear this week.
Shoop, who spent the last two seasons at Penn State following his tenure at Vanderbilt, is one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in college football and told Tennessee reporters on Wednesday that he was hired to beat Florida.
Florida’s 11-game winning streak against Tennessee hovers over this matchup — for different reasons on both sides.
Interestingly, Shoop was at Vanderbilt when the Commodores ended a 22-game losing streak to the Gators in 2013 with a 34-17 win in Gainesville.
He certainly has McElwain’s attention.
“I’m a big fan of his. He comes at you with things from everywhere. It shows up because they keep you out of the end zone. Very opportunistic,” McElwain said. “They’ve got some real weapons defensively (and are) playing a little more man than maybe they did. …
“At the same time, you know, it’s been fun. I love this part of it. Here’s a guy you kind of studied, you dig through files and then you wonder why you kept all this stuff. You probably got it at home, like, when am I ever going to need this, right? Who would have ever thought? And yet being able to look back and then go, ‘Wow, let’s pull up that William & Mary stuff that we had back then and look up what he did at Vanderbilt,’ which they did a heckuva job there. And then obviously what he did at Penn State and grouping it all together — that’s what makes it fun.”
McElwain also coached on the same staff at Louisville from 2001-02 with Vols defensive line coach Steve Stripling.
“What an unbelievable coach he is and how his guys play,” McElwain said. “They take advantage and know whatever your stance is, they’ve got every play figured out. They do a great job of studying what you do, so our guys, we’ll see how they do. They’ll go in there and battle.”