Florida’s defense entered the season with high expectations – expectations the unit seems to be exceeding.
“I think we’ve got the best defense,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said Monday. “Whatever the best defense is, I think we’re the standard of defense.”
The numbers prove the Gators belong in that discussion.
Florida ranks fifth nationally in total defense (280 yards per game) and fourth nationally in scoring defense (14.5 points per game). The only other two schools ranked in the top five in both categories are Wisconsin and Boston College.
But there isn’t a defense in the country forcing opposing offenses into three-and-outs at a higher rate than the Gators. Florida leads the FBS, forcing three-and-outs 32 percent of the time.
“We have this thing called ‘above the line, below the line,’ ” Tabor said. “You’re only going to go into the game if you’re above the line. So if you’re in the game, coaches know you could play, we know you could play. So we feel pretty good with our depth at our position on defense.”
Jim McElwain believes the recipe to the unit’s success is simple.
“They trust each other and they aren’t trying to do too much,” the first-year Gators coach said. “And they know if they do their job within the framework of what we’re asking them to do, that’s when your turnovers and plays are going to happen.”
Turnovers and impact plays have become the group’s trademarks. Florida is tied for 13th nationally with 21 turnovers gained and tied for 17th nationally with 7.6 tackles for loss per game.
The Gators’ secondary, led by cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Tabor, is a big reason behind the unit’s success. The duo has combined to record seven interceptions this season.
With the group fighting for the title of “DBU,” it has worked hard to make a convincing case. Florida ranks 10th nationally in passing defense.
But what makes the Gators’ defense special?
Along with excelling against the pass, it also can stop the run. Florida’s rushing defense ranks 10th nationally, allowing 105.1 rushing yards per game.
Defensive tackle Jon Bullard, who has 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season, is the catalyst for that success. Pro Football Focus rates Bullard as the top run-stopping defender in the country.
“It’s very hard,” Gators running back Kelvin Taylor said of running against the defense in practice. “But it just makes us that much better, and also just gets those young guys, the guys that are on the (offensive) line, that much more prepared for the game, because they’re not going see a defensive line like those guys in the nation.”
Florida, Boston College, Wisconsin and Michigan are the only schools ranked in the top 10 in both passing defense and rushing defense.
The scary part is that the Gators’ defense seems to be getting better every week. Since the bye week, Florida is allowing eight points and 199.7 yards per contest during its current three-game winning streak.
Tabor isn’t the only one who believes Florida features the top defense in the country. That list is starting to grow as each week passes.
“I feel like this is the best defense in the nation we have right now, man,” Taylor said. “I feel like these guys are going to get better and better. I feel like the sky is the limit and they just got to keep working hard.”