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  • Writer's pictureDavid Soderquist

Gators try to solve defensive woes in the second half of the season

Through seven games, we have seen some ups and downs with this Florida Gators football team. The offense seems inconsistent but improves weekly in Jekyll & Hyde form. The defense has given us less to be desired. It looks nonexistent regardless of releasing it from the clutches of Todd Grantham’s grasp and into the hands of Florida Gator’s new co-defensive coordinators, Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer. The main issue with this Florida Gators football team has been one-word “consistency.” The offense has made strides week to week but isn’t exactly what we would call a well-oiled machine. The once dubbed “preseason first-round draft pick and preseason Heisman candidate” Anthony Richardson hasn’t exactly put up Heisman-like or first-round numbers. Still, we have seen him slowly progress into his role as the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators. Regardless of putting up 453 passing yards against Tennessee or producing only 66 passing yards against Missouri, Richardson has put his team in a position to win games regardless of his mistakes and touchdown to interception ratio. The Kentucky game was a huge wake-up call to Florida Gator fans and a wake-up call to Richardson himself. Only two games through the season, we thought Richardson had “lost his confidence” and thought this was the beginning of another “put the back up in” argument. Regardless, Richardson has gotten past the horrible Kentucky and USF performances and has shown us that he is slowly progressing into an ample collegiate quarterback. Anthony Richardson has not been perfect, but the slow progression has taken a journey with what I like to call “baby steps.”

Unfortunately, slow progression with a quarterback is usually aided and accepted by how well a football team performs on the other side of the football, defense. Defensively, this football team has yet to find any identity through 7 games of the 2022 season. So far, this defense has given up an average of 441.2 yards per game, ranking 101st nationally. Of those total yards per game, Florida has given up an average of 242 yards per game which ranks 74th nationally, and 199.2 yards rushing per game which ranks 115th nationally. “Third and Toney” has been a quote floating around on social media, and rightfully so. Florida ranks 131st (dead last) in the FBS in Defensive Third Down Conversion Percentage (54.43%) and is ranked 124th nationally in Third Down Conversions Given up per game, giving up an average of 23.5 third downs per game. Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer inherited quite a defensive group if you follow high school recruiting. The defensive high school talent pool at The University of Florida consists of four 5-star talents and nineteen 4-star prospects ranked above .90 in the composite talent rankings. Florida ranks 12th in the SEC in total yards given up on defense, 10th in total passing yards given up, 13th in total rushing yards given up, and 10th in total points per game surrendered. There is an excuse for this coaching staff when it comes to recruiting players for their scheme, but with the talent pool of players you have defensively, there is no excuse for the defense to be this putrid seven games into the season. Out of the nineteen defensive statistics I have researched, Florida has bested the historically bad defensive numbers from 2020 in twelve categories and has gotten worse defensively.

Patrick Toney and this defensive staff have much work to do in the second half of this season, and they have two weeks to figure it out. Anthony Richardson has been inconsistent this season but has not been the sole reason The University of Florida has lost football games. It is time for this defense and this defensive staff to take an ownership approach in all aspects, make much-needed changes and help this offense and young quarterback out. Last year, Florida averaged giving up 16.5 points per game in the first half of the season but then would go on to give up 33 points per game in the second half of the season. With the exception of Kairr Elam and Zachary Carter, who played significant snaps. Tyron Hopper, Mohamoud Diabate, and a few other defensive players who didn’t play many snaps. Florida practically returns most of 2021’s defense except for the newcomers in the 2022 recruiting cycle. The defense performed leaps and bounds better in the first half of the season when the team confidence was up, and they had to play the more formidable opponents (Tennessee, Alabama). Only to spiral to teams like Missouri, South Carolina, UCF, and others when their head coach was out the door.

Are the players playing confidently? Is the coaching staff putting them in a position to be successful? Are they playing the right personnel? Numerous questions exist for this Florida Gator Football team going into the second half of the season. However, the big question we need answers to is, can Florida do a complete 180 with this defense like it did last year, except this time, for the better in the second half of the season? Or will we be biting our nails and asking this offense to put more on its plate to supplement the shortcomings of this Florida Gators defense?

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