The Gators did not return to the elite level of defense the program is known
for, but they did the job of dismissing last year’s struggles as an aberration.
Florida ended the regular season ranked 21st in scoring defense (20.4 points
allowed per game), 27th in total defense (344.8 yards allowed per game) and
10th in passing defense (175.1 yards per game).
Turnovers have been instrumental in the Gators’ turnaround defensively.
Florida ranks tied for 12th nationally and leads the SEC with 24 takeaways.
Coupled with its offense taking care of the football, UF has a plus-10 turnover
margin, tied for 10th nationally. The Gators last had a positive double-digit
margin in 2012, when they were tied for seventh nationally with a plus-15
Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham’s aggressive, blitz-heavy approach
helped Florida turn up its pass rush, create sack fumbles, and force opposing
quarterbacks into mistakes.
Just one year after finishing 129 nationally with three fumble recoveries, the
Gators collected 12 this year to tie for ninth nationally. Florida also racked
up five-plus sacks in four games this year, joining it with the 1996 and 1997
Gators as the only other UF teams since 1990 with four such outings in a
Junior defensive end Jachai Polite, a Bednarik Award semifinalist and All-
SEC First Team selection, has been the biggest beneficiary of Grantham’s
tactics. Polite tied for the FBS lead in forced fumbles, and is one of two
players in the country boasting five forced fumbles and 10-plus sacks.
Polite, a native of Daytona Beach, Florida, is tied for sixth nationally with
11 sacks—which is tied for the fifth-highest single-season total in school
history, and the most since Derrick Harvey’s 11 in 2006.
Polite’s brightest performances came in two of UF’s most important games,
as he racked up two sacks and a forced fumble in its victory over LSU, and
he logged 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, along with a forced fumble when
the Gators routed Florida State.
Fellow defensive end Jabari Zuniga, a redshirt junior, piled up 6.5 sacks and
11 tackles for loss opposite Polite this season. They are the first pair of UF
defensive linemen with 11-plus tackles for loss since 2010, and they are one
of 12 FBS duos with at least 6.5 sacks apiece.
While Florida is unlikely to be one of the nation’s top-10 total defenses for
an 11th time since 2005—Alabama is the only other team with more than
seven such finishes during that span—it is on pace to be a top-20 passing
defense for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons. And it is set to do so even
after losing star cornerback Marco Wilson to an injury two weeks into the
season, as well as a host of other injuries to defensive backs throughout
Late in games, Florida’s passing defense is at its best. The Gators lead the
nation in fourth quarter opponent passing efficiency (64.10) and are second
nationally in fourth quarter opponent completion percentage (39.2 percent).
Sophomore cornerback CJ Henderson leads the secondary with a pair of
interceptions and a team-high seven pass breakups. Henderson was a
Coaches’ All-SEC Second Team selection.
The secondary also saw cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and safeties
Brad Stewart, Jr. and Donovan Stiner snag two interceptions apiece.
Gardner-Johnson and Stewart each had interception return touchdowns this
year as well.
The defense is rounded out by linebackers Vosean Joseph and David Reese
II, the Gators’ leading tacklers. Joseph, who entered the year with just 68
tackles in 24 appearances, amassed a team-high 87 tackles, nine tackles
for loss, four sacks and four pass breakups. Reese was one of Florida’s top
returners on defense, but he missed the first three games of the season due
to injury. Still, Reese finished the regular season ranked seventh in the SEC
in tackles per game.
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