The Magic Appearing Act: The Gators Are a Second-Half Team, but What Does That Mean?
Florida's 24-point win over Kentucky looks good on paper, but when Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson said the team fell short of its goals, they weren't playing the "never satisfied" card.
In the first half of the game, the Wildcats had the Gators figured out: Keep the football from Kyle Trask, and work the defense early.
The result? Kentucky, a then-3-5- team, had a 14:43 possession advantage and a 10-7 lead over the No. 1 team in the SEC East. The Wildcats ate up the clock with a little bit of yardage and a lot of plays, banking on Florida's offense being quick and the defense being sluggish. The Gators played right into their hands; The offense completed a 30-second drive ending in a Kyle-to-Kyle connection, and the defense allowed 126 first-half rushing yards.
At this point, all eyes were on Mullen and Todd Grantham's heated yet seemingly one-sided exchange, which was hard to watch, but it looked like it woke the Gators up. Minutes later, the Gators defense finally forced a three-and-out after a Jacob Finn punt pinned the Wildcats at the 1-yard-line. Kadarius Toney would give the Gators the advantage 14-10 with a 50-yard punt return to the house.
The second half was all Gators thanks to some defensive adjustments and the offense finding a rhythm. Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson went just 1-of-9 for 13 yards and threw two picks in the second half after going 6-of-9 for 49 yards and a touchdown in the first. In addition, the Gators' defense held Kentucky to just 33-yards rushing in the second half.
Grantham made a few subtle, but key adjustments to give the Gators an advantage. First, the linebackers spied on Wilson in the second half while just a three-man rush began the play. This made Wilson force some bad throws, specifically those two interceptions, since he was unable to scramble out of the pocket as he did in the first half. Grantham also made some personnel adjustments and put a different group of players on the field to switch things up.
Freshman safety Tre'vez Johnson and sophomore DE Khris Bogle made the most of their opportunities. In addition, linebackers James Houston IV and Mohamoud Diabate seemed to make plays all over the field and complement each other's strengths and weaknesses more and more as the season continues.
In Grantham's defense, it really is a top-to-bottom effort and approach. The pass rush complements the secondary play, and linebackers have to maintain their gaps to complement the line in the run game. In the second half of the Kentucky game, we were able to see this finally take form.
Linebacker play all season has been at the mercy of opposing quarterbacks all season in the middle of the field. Nonetheless, they were the difference makers in the game. Houston finished with eight total tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and Diabate had six total tackles with 0.5 TFL and an interception. If this collective level of play is sustained for the rest of the season (including Atlanta), the Florida Gators could find themselves with a real shot to compete in the College Football Playoff.
Look for consistency at all levels of the defense to continue to improve as the season comes to an end. This defense is very capable of producing consistent play at a high level. If Grantham can produce a full-game attack against Florida's remaining opponents similar to what he did in the second half versus Kentucky, the Gators control their own destiny.
Photo Credit: Jordan Herald/@JordanHerald5/UF Football
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