Gators' defense deserves credit for spectacular season
Defense wins championships. That’s the old adage, and it’s one the Florida Gators are hoping to carry into two huge games against Florida State and then Alabama in the SEC Championship. They’ve overachieved as a team to this point, being the first team to clinch a division in any of the Power-5 conferences, and it’s the defense that deserves the credit.
So what makes the Florida defense so good? They boast playmakers at every level and have put together a well-rounded unit that can stop the run, rush the passer, and play coverage. It starts up front with All-American candidate DT Jonathan Bullard who boasts the top run-stopping grade in the nation at +36.5 while improving his pass rushing this year to the tune of six sacks, six hits, and 12 hurries on 253 rushes. His instincts and ability to read and defeat blocks have made him a force, and a very consistent one at that, as he’s yet to grade lower than +2.1 in any game this season. Complementing Bullard has been a deep rotation of defensive linemen, with six other players grading positively while playing at least 192 snaps, led by true sophomore DT Caleb Brantley and his team-high +10.6 pass rushing grade.
At the linebacker level, Antonio Morrison receives the hype, but it’s Jarrad Davis who has turned heads this season as his +11.6 mark leads the way for the Gators. He leads the team with 34 stops, including 12 in the passing game, good for 12th in the nation among linebackers.
Rounding out the defense is the deep secondary, led by three cornerbacks with positive grades — Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor, and Quincy Wilson — and a PFF Dream Teamer at strong safety in Marcus Maye (+19.5 overall, second among Power-5 safeties). The three cornerbacks have combined to allow 48 catches on 112 targets (42.8 percent) for 529 yards (4.7 yards per attempt). They’ve also combined to allow only two touchdowns while intercepting nine and getting their hands on 12 other passes. As for Maye, he moves around the defense, often making plays around the line of scrimmage in the run game, but it’s his +11.1 coverage grade that leads the nation and he’s tied for fifth among safeties with five passes defensed.
With top talent up and down the defense, Florida boasts one of the nation’s best all-around units and they’ll be relied upon heavily if the Gators are going to make an outside push at the College Football Playoff.