When you recap UGA’s offensive production versus Florida’s defense, you don’t need to go too far beyond three points scored to know this one was ugly for the Bulldogs. Poor discipline and a new quarterback had UGA’s offense in a hole all game long, but even then, Florida’s defense showed success in different formations.
Being able to attack an offense in a variety of ways is what makes good defenses great, and is often a testament to how well a coach can get the most out of their players.
During the CBS broadcast, Gary Danielson said, “Florida’s front four is compared favorably to Alabama’s.” I was taken back when he said it, and still think the gap between the Gators and the Tide is bigger than Danielson suggested. But it did lead me to take a closer look into what the Gators front four is doing to boost the rest of the defense behind them. What I found is that, like the Crimson Tide, Florida’s ability to attack the line of scrimmage from different sets is what makes its front four so successful.
4-3 inside pressure
Let’s start with the interior pressure from defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard.
The above play is a third-and-1 situation where UGA was just trying to pick up the yard it needed to move on with the drive. At first glance, it appears the Bulldogs go for the double-team on the edge player, leaving Bullard alone on the inside. However, Bullard’s jump on the snap is so quick that he already engaged the man in front of him and was two steps into his push by the time the guard could turn to help. The double was for Bullard, but he was too quick off the snap to let it affect him.
Bullard has been disrupting the interior with great anticipation all year, and that’s why he’s such a focal point for this defense.
4-3 outside pressure
One big question mark going into the season was who would be a speed rusher off the edge for Florida, but defensive end Alex McCalister is filling that role.
Whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3, pressure off the edge is critical: Not only does it help bring quarterbacks down, but it helps get into their head, too, causing stress and worry because they can’t see behind them. McCalister’s success comes from combining speed with long arms to create separation, but what has really set him over the top is his ability to bend when changing direction.
In the Vine above, McCalister rips off the right tackle but then is able to change direction and get his arms into the quarterback’s throwing motion in five steps without having to fully stop and start; he stays explosive throughout the pursuit. Without good control when changing direction, speed can be reckless. McCalister is doing a nice job of beating players to a spot but also controlling that speed once in range to finish plays.
3-4 inside pressure
In the play above, CeCe Jefferson is playing left end in the 3-4. But I’m using him as an example of interior pressure because it’s still coming between the tackles (not off the edge), and I think he’s ultimately going to be a 4-3 defensive tackle as his game matures.
As a true freshman, Jefferson’s production has been a pleasant surprise and something defensive coordinator Geoff Collins can plan around. Jefferson plays multiple spots on the line like Bullard does, but here we see him really let loose. As a 3-4 defensive lineman, your job is simple: Blow up the line. There’s no edge to set, and gap control is really more on the linebackers as the trench deteriorates two or three seconds into the play. With that in mind, Jefferson’s bull rush takes up two blockers (a win for him) and forces the running back to move toward an area where Florida knows it has Antonio Morrison waiting to make the tackle.
Jefferson, Bullard, Bryan Cox, Jr. and Caleb Brantley are all players who can be successful in a 3-4 on the inside. The Gators are proving they have that kind of depth.
3-4 outside pressure
3-4 defensive sets often use a Buck/Jack linebacker as their foundation — those are the linebackers you see who are near the line of scrimmage in a stand-up position, not in a three-point stance (i.e. they don’t have their hand on the ground). Here’s a visual Gators fans have seen before.
(Via Alligator Army)
Here you have the three down linemen shifted to the left side of the line with Florida alum Dante Fowler Jr. standing up with a ton of space to work with on his side. The thought process is to give him a one-on-one that either gets him to the quarterback faster or forces a runner inside.
In the video above we take a look at McCalister again, but this time in the Buck role that Fowler played.
Though McCalister isn’t as physically dominant as Fowler was against opposing offensive tackles, his speed was able to force UGA’s Sony Michel back inside, where the defensive lineman were shifting and able to give Florida the stop it needed. It was a recipe from Will Muschamp mixed with a little added creativity from the shift.
Collins is doing a nice job of rotating defensive looks to get the most talent out of the most players he can.