The University of Florida touted top-10 defenses all four seasons under Will Muschamp.
It was the backbone of UF’s 11-win season in 2012, and the lone positive staple of Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville.
But those units never quite possessed the bite or blistering bombardment of No. 11 Florida’s current group.
See, Geoff Collins is nicknamed the Minister of Mayhem for a reason.
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The Gators’ new defensive coordinator inherited a unit stockpiled with talent, and he’s instilled a culture of chaos, resulting in eye-popping numbers early in the season.
Under Collins’ aggressive and attacking scheme, Florida leads the Southeastern Conference in takeaways with 11. The Gators (5-0, 3-0 SEC) rank second nationally with 46 tackles for loss and are averaging 3.6 sacks per game — on pace for a top-five sack season in school history.
“The scheme is a big help getting to the quarterback,” said defensive end Alex McCalister, who ranks second on the team with 4.0 sacks.
“It’s a little more freeing.”
While Muschamp’s defenses were excellent at limiting opponents’ explosive plays and opportunistically forcing turnovers, Florida ranked in the middle of the pack in sacks and tackles for loss all four years.
Collins is blitzing linebackers more, while a relentless and deep defensive line is creating lots of negative plays with twists and stunts.
“We probably should have 25 [sacks],” said defensive line coach Chris Rumph, remarking on Florida only having 18.
“We left a lot of plays on the field, lot of sacks and a lot of plays in general. We’ve got to get that corrected.”
Still, Florida is flying to the football and making many more plays than not. Ten players have recorded at least half a sack. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III tops the SEC with three interceptions, while senior defensive tackle Jon Bullard is tied for the league lead in tackles for loss (9.5). Even guys who aren’t showing up in the boxscore — namely tackle Caleb Brantley — have been selflessly productive drawing double-teams or clogging up gaps.
In all, the defense’s newfound freedom is paying off.
“Just go do it 110 miles per hour,” said coach Jim McElwain, of the unit’s attacking philosophy.
“You know how U-Hauls have those governors on them where you can’t go more than 60 miles per hour. The whole idea in this is as a player, take the gutter off. There is no gutter because your mind is the only thing that tells you you can’t or if you don’t want to. That’s the only gutter you have. Understand the detail of what you need to do, but lift the gutter off and go.”
After some lapses against East Carolina and Tennessee, the Gators lived up to their #BDN — Best Defense in the Nation — billing against then-No. 3 Ole Miss last Saturday.
Florida held the nation’s most explosive offense (54.8 points per game) to just 10 points and 328 yards. UF also forced four turnovers and sacked quarterback Chad Kelly four times.
McElwain compared the dominating effort to some of the Alabama performances he was around from 2009-11.
“I thought this performance was maybe reminiscent of some of those games,” he said. “They didn’t get silly, you know what I’m getting at? It was, ‘Look, this is what we’re supposed to do, and this is how we go do it. Now let’s go take it to them.’ ”
Florida might also “take it to” Missouri (4-1, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
The Tigers average just 21.4 points per game, ranking last in the SEC and No. 120 nationally in total offense (322.4 yards per game). Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Drew Luck will make just his second career start with Maty Mauk still suspended, so the Gators’ pass rush could have another monster day.