|Florida's defense comes up big against Vols|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 17 September 2007 00:23|
He feels much more relaxed now.
His inexperienced defense, which has nine new starters from last year's national championship team, played its best game of the season Saturday against the Volunteers.
The unit gave up 13 points, 37 yards rushing, forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown in the 59-20 rout. Although performances from quarterback Tim Tebow, receiver Percy Harvin and kick returner Brandon James got much of the attention after the game, Meyer set the record straight Sunday.
``You can talk about Tebow and Percy, but the reason we won that game was because of excellent defense,'' said Meyer, whose team moved up two spots to No. 3 in the latest Associated Press poll.
The defense showed plenty of holes in wins against Western Kentucky and Troy, causing concern for Meyer and his coaching staff.
``We always take criticism and we use it,'' safety Tony Joiner said. ``It's like bulletin board material for us. We take it and we look at it every day. The coaches pound it in our heads that, 'You can't stop the run, you can't stop the run. Tennessee's coming in and they're going to pound the ball down your throat.' We just took it upon ourselves to practice it and get everything perfected.''
The defense got off to a strong start against Tennessee (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference). The Gators (3-0, 1-0) stuffed the run on the first play of the game, then got a break on third down when wide receiver Austin Rogers dropped a pass.
``Any time you can get the defense off the field, that gives you a shot of confidence,'' Meyer said. ``Any time you get a three-and-out on defense, it's just a major morale booster for you, especially against a bunch of good personnel.''
James returned the ensuing punt 83 yards for a touchdown. Erik Ainge had the Vols driving for a score, but Markihe Anderson intercepted a pass at the Florida 9 that changed momentum.
Linebacker Dustin Doe made an even bigger play for the Gators in the third quarter.
After Tennessee cut the lead to 28-20 on Eric Berry's interception return for a touchdown, Arian Foster fumbled a handoff and Doe scooped it up and ran 18 yards for a touchdown that stretched the lead.
Foster finished with a team-high 26 yards on 11 carries. As a team, Tennessee ran 21 times for 37 yards - and averaged 1.8 yards an attempt.
``They came right out and play well against the run,'' Meyer said. ``Tennessee, obviously, had a very clear plan. I think they made it public. I'm not sure if that was locker room talk or someone came out and said they wanted to run the ball against us. I don't blame them. With the great offensive line and those great running backs, I'd do the same thing.''
Ainge tried to pick up the slack and take advantage of Florida's inconsistent pass rush. But he didn't do enough, completing 26 of 41 passes for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jonathan Crompton replaced Ainge late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach and threw another interception. Backup safety Jerimy Finch picked it off, but he was lost for the season when he damaged ligaments and broke a bone in his lower leg on the tackle.
Anderson also re-injured his right knee early in the game. Anderson sprained his medial collateral ligament last month, missed the opener and played sparingly in the second game.
Meyer said safety Major Wright, who replaced starter Kyle Jackson after he missed tackles on consecutive plays in the first quarter, played well and probably earned a starting spot.
He also said defensive tackles Javier Estopinan and Clint McMillan played well for the first time season. They got more push up the middle and helped stuff the run.
Maybe more importantly, they helped ease Meyer's anxiety. At least for now.
``I'll be honest, I was a little - I don't want to say shocked - but I was,'' Meyer said. ``I was awful impressed with the way they played against the run.''