University of Florida

UF’s offense is often criticized. Is its defense any better?

Randy Shannon interim head coach of the Florida Gators watches his team against the Missouri Tigers in the second quarter at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017 in Columbia, Missouri.
Randy Shannon interim head coach of the Florida Gators watches his team against the Missouri Tigers in the second quarter at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017 in Columbia, Missouri. Getty Images

It sounded innocent. It sounded like every other question Florida coach Randy Shannon was asked Tuesday. “When reviewing defensive film from the Missouri loss, was it a lack of effort or more of …” — Shannon stopped the question.

“Not to say this in a bad way,” he said, “but we’re on South Carolina now. I can’t keep talking to you about Missouri.”

That’s been Shannon’s attitude since he took over the program less than two weeks ago. To only focus on what’s in front. But as the questioner pointed out, doesn’t he have to patch the holes that left his team’s defense porous as a dam with holes it against the Tigers?

Shannon once again refused to talk about what went wrong. Only what should go right this weekend when his team travels to South Carolina. He then launched into a detailed explanation about what he expects from the Gamecocks’ offense, breaking down its three-receiver sets, tight end blocking schemes and tendency to get the ball to tight end Hayden Hurst.

That approach may work for Shannon. Missouri was, after all, his first game as UF’s head coach. So maybe that focus on what South Carolina can do will yield results. Maybe it’s different than how former coach Jim McElwain approached similar situations and it’ll be just what the team needs. But whatever his approach, he better hope it fixes his team’s defense, because that defense — on a team with more of a reputation for bad offense — has been brutal for the past two weeks.

It started with Georgia, when the unit surrendered 393 yards and 42 points to the Bulldogs. It continued against Missouri, when the yards swelled to 455 and the points were bumped up to 45. It marked the first time since 1917 that the Gators allowed 42 points or more in back-to-back games.

“I just don’t think people were as committed as they needed to be,” defensive tackle Taven Bryan said of the defensive collapse against the Tigers. “We’ve hit a couple of bumps in the road, and I think they’re ready to straighten it out a little bit.”

He emphasized some of the younger players, who he didn’t specify by name, just haven’t shown their potential in games. It’s coming, he assured, and it’s coming soon. But it’s too late for Florida’s defense to become the dominant force of years past, even if Bryan is right.

Granted, the unit is severely depleted by injuries and suspensions. At defensive end, Keivonnis Davis and Jordan Smith are suspended while Jordan Sherit is out for the year with a hip injury and Jachai Polite is out with a shoulder injury. At linebacker, freshmen James Houston and Ventrell Miller are suspended while Kylan Johnson is likely out for the year with an injury as well. And at defensive back, starting safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington are both out — Harris since the beginning of the season and Washington since UF’s loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 9.

Those limitations have resulted in the group dropping from third in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense in 2016 to ninth in 2017. From second in total defense to sixth. From third in opponent third-down conversion rate to sixth.

So how does Shannon try to turn that around? Is there some point of emphasis?

You bet there is.

“South Carolina,” he said.

  Comments