Gator Defense Dominates Early
KARL HYPPOLITETALLAHASSEE - A lot has been said about Florida's quick-strike offense, but lost amid the offensive exploits is the dominant play of the defense early in games.
Published: November 30, 2008
Published: November 30, 2008
The play of the defense in the Gators' 45-15 win against Florida State helped the Gators finish the regular season allowing just three first-half touchdowns.
Those scores came courtesy of Mississippi, LSU and surprisingly in last week's 70-19 win against The Citadel.
In fact, Jermaine Thomas' 4-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter of Saturday's game was the first touchdown Florida's first-team defense has allowed since its 51-21 romp against LSU.
"We were soundly beaten," FSU's Myron Rolle said. "They played very well."
Florida's special teams, which have often been as strong as any other unit, put the defense in bad field position multiple times, allowing Florida State kick returner Michael Ray Garvin to total 172 yards on five returns.
Despite the favorable field position, the Seminoles were unable to get the ball into the end zone in the first half.
"Our kick return team was killed today," Coach Urban Meyer said. "Our kickoff team was putting the defense in bad positions and to only give up field goals is big. Our defense holding them to field goals in that situation is considered a victory."
At the center of much of the defensive play is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who added six tackles and an interception to his stellar season totals.
Spikes' third-quarter interception - which came on the first play of the half - set up a Florida touchdown that pushed the Gators' lead to 35-9, and halted any chance Florida State had of getting back into the game.
"I just read my keys and stepped in front of it," Spikes said.
Early on it appeared Spikes may not have been able to control his emotions enough to make the contributions the Gators normally expect.
Spikes drew a late-hit penalty in the first quarter after Seminoles QB Christian Ponder ran for a 13-yard gain in the first quarter.
"I was just a little riled up," Spikes said.
In the end, the defense played well enough to put the offense into the prime scoring positions it has enjoyed all season, even more important considering that playmaker Percy Harvin went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter.
"We've just got to play great defense," Spikes said. "We've got to go get the offense the ball and let them make plays."
And now the Gators can finally look forward to accomplishing their first goal of the season, which is claiming another SEC championship.
Maintaining their focus on the opponent at hand has been a bit more difficult this season considering the Gators clinched the SEC East title three weeks ago at Vanderbilt, but now they have their eyes set squarely on undefeated Alabama.
"It was kind of hard not looking at it after we clinched the SEC East," Spikes said. "But now we can get ready for them."