clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2014 Alabama Football: Previewing the Florida Defense

The Gators' defense will provide the Tide's first real test.

Coach Boom
Coach Boom
Rob Foldy

Although the Alabama Crimson Tide is already a fourth of the way (ugh!) into the football season, this weekend marks the first real test of the 2014 campaign.  The Florida Gators come into Tuscaloosa undefeated, but still a bit of a mystery.  One thing is for certain, however.  We will know a lot more about where both teams stand when the final seconds tick off the clock Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Coming off a disastrous 4-8 finish in 2013, the Gators return ten starters from a squad that still ranked in the top ten nationally in total defense.  Florida head coach Will Muschamp is a former defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins, and his 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense will look very familiar to Tide fans.  Putting pressure on Alabama's inexperienced quarterback (Blake Sims) will be key to the Gators' strategy for winning the game.  Let's take a look at this experienced and talented Florida defense.

Florida's first game against Idaho was postponed after only one play due to a torrential thunderstorm, so the Gators have played only two games so far this season.  In week two against Eastern Michigan, the defense held the Eagles to a scant 125 total yards in a 65-0 shellacking.  However, the defense looked much more vulnerable last weekend against Kentucky.

Defensive Line

While statistics are going to be somewhat inflated in a game that runs into three overtimes, Florida gave up 369 yards through the air to the Wildcats, including a 60-yard touchdown pass on blown coverage.  Is Kentucky better than expected?  Did Florida's defense take a step back?  Probably a little of both, in our opinion, although the Gators did hold their opponent under 100 yards rushing for the second week in a row (third, if you count Idaho!).  Much of the credit for that goes to the Gators' defensive line.

At the Nose, senior Darious Cummings is the anchor of the defensive line.  The 6'1" 305-lb Cummings is a former Florida State Seminole, by way of East Mississippi Community College.  He started six games last season for the Gators.

Jonathan Bullard (6'3" 270 lbs), a junior, is a three-year starter for the Gators at end/tackle.  He was the second-leading tackler on the defensive line in 2013 with 33 stops, and he is on pace to exceed that this season.  Bullard is joined by redshirt senior Leon Orr, who rounds out the line in a three-man configuration.  Orr, at 6'5" 305 lbs, was one of the few Florida players who stayed relatively helathy last season, playing in all 12 games.  He started eight games at defensive tackle.

Dante Fowler, Jr. is the starter at the "Buck" position, which is a hybrid inside linebacker/defensive end, depending on the whether the Gators are in a three or four-man front.  Fowler is a pass-rushing specialist who had 50 tackles in 2014, including 10.5 for loss.  A preseason All-SEC first-team selection, the junior slimmed down to a svelte 260 lbs (from 277) in preparation for this season by cutting "Big Macs" from his diet.

Other Gators who will make an impact include sophomores Bryan Cox (DE - 6'3", 260 lbs), Joey Ivie (DT - 6'3", 285 lbs) and Alex McCalister (Buck - 6'6", 245 lbs) as well as redshirt freshman Jay-nard Bostwick (NT - 6'3", 305 lbs), who wins my award this week for weirdest name.


Michael Taylor is the signal caller for Gators at the Mike (middle linebacker) position.  Taylor, a 6'0" 230-lb redshirt senior, led the team in tackles in 2013, and started ten games last season.  He is arguably the most experienced player on the team.

Joining Taylor are Neiron Ball at Sam (strong-side linebacker) and Antonio Morrison at Will (Weak-side linebacker).  Ball, another redshirt senior, and Morrison, a junior, both started seven games last year.  All three starting linebackers lead the team with 11 tackles each in the first two games.  Ball (6'3", 235 lbs) has started the season on a hot streak, amassing 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble so far.  Morrison (6'1", 225 lbs) was the second-leading tackler on the team last year, even though he missed the last three games of the season with a torn meniscus.

Also contributing at linebacker for Florida are sophomores Alex Anzalone (Sam - 6'3", 230 lbs), Jarrad Davis (Mike - 6'2" 225 lbs), and Daniel McMillan (Will - 6'1", 220 lbs).


Vernon Hargreaves (1) is arguably the best player on the Florida defense.(via

The best player in the Florida secondary, and arguably on the entire defense, is cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, III. A 5’11", 195-lb sophomore, Hargreaves will likely match up against Alabama’s Amari Cooper, who threw down the gauntlet earlier this week when he claimed that no one could cover him one-on-one. Hargreaves may be called upon to do just that. Already honored as a freshman All-American last season, Hargreaves is on the watch lists for a number of awards in 2014. He has already broken up five passes in the first two games.

Junior Brian Poole (5'10", 205 lbs) is the other starting cornerback for the Gators.  He started six games last year at the nickel position.  Poole has ten tackles, an interception, a tackle for loss, two passes broken up, and two quarterback hurries in his two starts this season.

Jabari Gorman (strong) and Keanu Neal (free) are the starting safeties on the Florida defense.  Gorman (5'10", 185 lbs), a senior, started five games in 2013.   Neal, a 6'1", 205-lb sophomore, was a backup at safety last year.  If there is a soft point in the Florida defense, it may be at the safety position.  Both Gorman and Neal were burned for long touchdowns last week by Kentucky freshman Garrett Johnson in one-on-one coverage.


On the first touchdown play Johnson lined up in the slot late in the third quarter.  Gorman apparently misjudges Johnson's speed, and Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles puts the ball right in his hands 30 yards downfield.  By this time, Gorman has nearly caught to Johnson, and Neal is crossing the field in pursuit.  Johnson, however, makes a nifty stop-and-go move that sends Neal out of bounds and drops Gorman flat on his belly.  Johnson continues unscathed to a 60-yard score.

Garrett Johnson Causes Two Defenders to Miss and Gets a Wildcat Touchdown (via Wildcat Touchdowns)

Barely two minutes later, Johnson victimizes the Florida defense on another score, this one a 33-yarder.  Again Johnson is lined up in the slot, but this time, Neal has him in coverage. Johnson runs along the right sideline, passing right by Neal, who bites on Dorian Baker's underneath route even though Hargreaves has Baker covered already.  Gorman realizes that Johnson is open, but too late to do anything other than watch him cross the goal line from ten yards away.

Patrick Towles Throws a Touchdown Strike to Garrett Johnson (via Wildcat Touchdowns)


Florida's defense is solid, if not spectacular, especially in the front seven.  They have allowed only 287.5 yards per game in the first two games, including 80.5 yards rushing, both of which are improvements over their 2013 averages (although it's still early).  And they have a shutdown corner in Hargreaves who might be one of the nation's best by the end of the season.  However, against Kentucky, the secondary showed some uncharacteristic vulnerabilities that should have Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin drooling.  If Blake Sims and the Alabama offense can exploit confusion in the Florida secondary on a couple of big plays, I expect the Tide to roll to victory on Saturday.