UF defensive lineman Caleb Brantley bull-rushed through the interior of North Texas’ offensive line and met quarterback Mason Fine in the end zone.
Brantley grabbed Fine from behind, forcing him to the ground. Bryan Cox Jr. clapped his hands together above his head.
The defense needed two plays to give the Gators a 2-0 lead.
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Florida’s offense tacked on 30 more points Saturday night, but with the way the defense played, it didn’t need to.
The Gators allowed a program-low 53 yards from the Mean Green, sacked Fine seven times and posted their first shutout in the Jim McElwain Era.
“That’s just what we do,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “When we get on the field, that’s what we do.”
The No. 19 Gators are hoping that performance is just a tuneup as they prepare to head on the road for the first time this season to face No. 14 Tennessee on Saturday.
On paper, it’s Florida’s toughest game of the young season: A top-15 opponent, a valiant offense and Southeast Conference East implications on the line.
Still, the defense remains confident.
“I feel like our defense is ready for any team in the country,” defensive lineman Joey Ivie said. “Tennessee, whoever. Obviously the focus is Tennessee this week, but I feel like we have that type of defense that we’re ready for whoever we play.”
That has been the case so far in Florida’s wins against UMass, Kentucky and North Texas.
Three weeks into the season, Florida’s defense leads the country in average yards allowed (129.7 per game), average points allowed (4.7) and total sacks (16). UF is one of two Football Bowl Subdivision schools that has yet to allow a passing touchdown (Oregon State is the other).
“We’ve just been motivated to really hold ourselves to a higher standard and just show everybody across the nation that we’re not coming to play any funny games,” UF linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “We’re coming to really do what we do and dominate and put ourselves out there as the best defense and the best team in the nation.”
Second-year UF coach McElwain credited former UF coach Will Muschamp for putting the pieces together on defense. All 11 of Florida’s defensive starters were recruited during Muschamp’s tenure.
“Our defensive staff, we’re not reinventing the wheel when we put that together,” McElwain said. “We knew that that’s something that was successful, so there’s not a big reason to change, but rather just keep going.”
And with a backup quarterback in graduate transfer Austin Appleby making his first UF start in a hostile Neyland Stadium — which has a maximum capacity of 102,455 — the defense will be looked upon to guide Florida to its 12th consecutive victory in the rivalry and stop a Tennessee offense that pushed Florida to the brink in last year’s 28-27 victory.
The Volunteers, led by quarterback Josh Dobbs, put up 419 yards of offense against the Gators in 2015. Dobbs, then a junior, led Tennessee in passing (10 for 17, 83 yards), rushing (136 yards) and receiving (58-yard receiving touchdown) in the matchup.
The Gators narrowly pulled out the win behind a 63-yard hookup from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway with less than 90 seconds to play.
“This guy is as good as there is,” McElwain said of the athletic, 6-3, 210-pound Dobbs. “He hurt us a year ago. Let’s face it, they ran it down our throat a year ago.”
Said safety Marcus Maye: “We just have to be a complete defense, be a disciplined defense.”