Gators' defense makes them a playoff contender
When we talked about Florida’s game against Ole Miss on last week’s podcast, we discussed how the Gators defense had the ability to keep the game close into the fourth quarter. Given how good Ole Miss had looked so far in 2015, we certainly didn’t expect the Gators to blow them out in the manner they did. That being said, when you look at how well the Florida defense has graded this year, it probably wasn’t as big of a surprise as we initially thought.
Starting on the defensive line, Jonathan Bullard (+17.7) is having a tremendous season. He’s second in the country at the position with 18 defensive stops and, while he hasn’t been outstanding as a pass-rusher, he has still managed to chip in with four sacks, a hit and six quarterback hurries. Defensive end Alex McCalister (+9.9) has stood out as a pass-rusher, with five sacks, three hits and six hurries of his own.
At linebacker, Jarrad Davis (+10.0) is the only starter with a positive grade, but he has looked really good, both against the run and in coverage. With the exception of the game against Tennessee, where he missed his only three tackles of the year so far, Davis has been outstanding in that regard and has registered four or more defensive stops in every game since Week 2.
In the secondary Vernon Hargreaves III (+1.0) isn’t having a bad year, but he isn’t quite standing out like he did a year ago. Last season (+26.5), he was one of the best defensive players in all of college football, so it’s hard not to imagine we’ll see him back at his best soon. Even so, he has still allowed just 23 receptions from the 52 passes thrown into his coverage so far this year.
While Hargreaves is having somewhat of a down year, fellow cornerbacks Quincy Wilson (+5.8) and Jalen Tabor (+6.5) have looked impressive. Wilson has allowed a mere eight receptions for 81 yards, while Tabor has allowed 11 for 94, with both coming away with an interception and two pass breakups.
What might hold Florida back is their offense, where quarterback Will Grier (-0.4) has very much been up and down. That being said, he had his best game of the year as a passer in the win over Ole Miss, completing 80 percent of his passes and throwing four touchdowns. If he can play like that, to go along with their stifling defense, Florida is going to be a very difficult team to beat.