The mission seemed so clear two weeks ago. Posters and magazines of LSU running back Leonard Fournette were littered across the Gators’ locker room. Various Florida players vowed to stop him in interviews with the media and to each other. And based on the pure talent level and past productivity we’ve seen out of them, there was reason to believe that it would happen.
But not only did it not happen, Florida’s defense failed to stop LSU’s offense at all. Not only did Leonard Fournette tally a healthy 180 yards on 31 carries, but the Gators’ secondary got burned on multiple deep passing plays and made Brandon Harris look better than he is. This all added up to an unheard of 28 points and 288 yards allowed in the second quarter, which directly led to a 35-28 loss.
Luckily, that loss didn’t matter. Florida still controls its own destiny to the SEC Championship Game, and can basically clinch it with a win over Georgia. Please, spare me the Broadway spectacle of an argument that Vanderbilt is still mathematically alive; the Commodores would have to beat Florida, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Kentucky, and Florida would have to lose to both Vanderbilt and South Carolina. To Vanderbilt, I say: good luck on getting any of those things to happen. A win here and the Gators go to Atlanta. Book it.
But getting that win is going to require more than just an improved performance from Treon Harris. Florida’s defense got slugged in the jaw last week, and now they’ve got to respond.
The good news is that even with Nick Chubb, Georgia’s offense did not present such a Fournette-level foreboding threat to beat Florida. Now that they don’t have Chubb anymore, the Bulldogs are really in trouble offensively. They’re going to have to use Sony Michel and Keith Marshall to try to establish a ground game, and while both are certainly SEC level backs, neither presents the problem of having to base your entire defensive game plan around stopping them like Chubb did. Georgia has one receiver of decent caliber in Malcolm Mitchell (505 yards), but beyond him, it’s shaky; their next leading receiver, Isaiah McKenzie has just 203 receiving yards. Of course, this is merely a correlation with the type of quarterback play the Dawgs have been getting out of Greyson Lambert, whose decision making in the pocket is questionable at best and has a tendency to panic when faced with heavy pressure. And while Brandon Harris is similarly ineffective as a QB, at least he can run away and buy time… and Lambert cannot.
So yes, this Gator defense has a decidedly easier task this week against Georgia than they did against LSU. When you have a unit that’s hurting, and even embarrassed, giving them a less problematic opponent to erase their frustrating on with the promise that a win will send them to their first SEC Championship Game is just the tonic.
That means make tackles in the open field. That means get push in the trenches and invade the backfield to blow up running plays. That means be smart in pass coverage, and not jumping routes impatiently. That means doing all the little things they were recruited to Florida to do.
Here’s hoping this NFL talent laden defense does all the things they’re supposed to do, and keeps that LSU game in the back of their mind, with a trip to Atlanta in the front.