Here’s a little secret about the Florida Gators.
In their best years, it turns out, the Gators have a gift for playing defense, too.
Oh, no one talks about it, of course, not at Touchdown U. Here, the quarterbacks are outside of the stadium as statues, and the conversation on everyone’s lips is whether new coach Jim McElwain can restore the offense. Who will be the quarterback? Where are the playmakers? What’s the play call going to be on third-and-nine?
Meanwhile, the Gators are going to be pretty good on defense. Again.
Really, it shouldn’t surprise that many people. Florida’s greatest successes have featured the defenses in starring roles, too.
Remember the first national title, the 52-20 victory over FSU? The Gators outscored the Seminoles 35-6 in the second half of that one. Sure, everyone talked about Danny Wuerffel and his No. 1 draft picks at receivers, Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony. But the Gators also shut down a high-powered FSU offense after the break.
Then there was the 2006 national title. The Gators swarmed Ohio State in that one, 41-14, holding Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith to four completions in 14 tries for only 35 yards. The Gators sacked him five times.
And the 2008 national title? You have to remember what a scoring machine the Oklahoma Sooners were, scoring 702 regular season points and breaking the 60-point barrier in five straight games. But the Sooners scored only twice on the Gators, and Heisman winner Sam Bradford looked ordinary.
Perhaps that is why Florida fans are quietly confident going into this year despite the low expectations. Led by a deep, talented secondary, the Gators’ defense should be able to keep Florida in most games. Vernon Hargreaves leads that secondary.
“A true, top-flight defense,” McElwain was saying the other day.
It will have to be, of course. It will have to give a new offensive coordinator time with a new quarterback and a new running back. But the defense gives Florida a chance, at least.