Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gators Defense Seeking to Bounce Back; after Starting Season in Fine Form, Injuries Have Taken Toll on Florida

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gators Defense Seeking to Bounce Back; after Starting Season in Fine Form, Injuries Have Taken Toll on Florida

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

GAINESVILLE | No matter how pedestrian their offense could get, the Florida Gators took comfort in the fact earlier this season that the top-rated defense in the SEC (and a top-five unit in the NCAA) would keep the game close and give UF a chance.

Then came the injuries.

Then came the warning signs against LSU, a 17-6 loss in which the Tigers' Jeremy Hill ran for 121 yards.

Then came the Missouri game two weeks ago, which was a shock to everyone's system, especially the players, with the 36-17 loss.

The Tigers rolled up 500 total yards 24 first downs. 205 yards rushing, all season highs against the Gators - with a freshman, Maty Mauk, starting his first college game.

An opponent had not gained 500 total yards against the Gators since Michigan had 524 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, and the rushing yards allowed were the most since Furman gained 233 yards on Nov. 19, 2011.

"They gashed us both ways," defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. "[It was] really uncomfortable watching film ... They're not supposed to put up that many points on us. It [was] hard to watch a loss like that."

Unless the Florida defense improves drastically on Saturday against Georgia at EverBank Field (3:30 p.m., CBS), it might be another affront to the eyesight. Defensive back Cody Riggs said the last two games have taken the starch out of the unit. He said if the Gators (4-3, 3-2 SEC) are to handle Georgia (4-3, 3-2) quarterback Aaron Murray and make the game competitive on Saturday, "we've got to get our swagger back."

"Once you lose a game or two, you kind of lose your confidence," Riggs said. "I feel that once we get our swagger back and get our confidence up, we're going to go back to how we were at the beginning of the season."

But it won't get any easier, especially with Georgia running back Todd Gurley returning from an injury to complement Murray. Gurley has missed the last three games with an ankle injury after gaining 450 yards in four games.

Gurley gained 118 yards and scored a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 17-9 victory over Florida last year.

Riggs' point about going back to how the defense played early in the season is well-taken. …

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