Jim McElwain: Florida defense reminscent to Alabama D in 2009

The Florida defense sacked Patrick Towles six times in Week 3. TNS via Getty Images/Lexington Herald-Leader

We’re three weeks in, and Florida's still has some kinks to work through on offense.

“Boy, I’ll say we’re working through some kinks,” head coach Jim McElwain said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “That’s being nice.”

And yet, the Gators are 3-0 and coming off a road win in the SEC thanks in large part to the defense, a group that held Kentucky to just 245 yards and 9 points this past weekend.

It was a long night for opposing quarterback Patrick Towles, who was sacked six times and finished 8 of 24 for 126 yards passing. His final throw of the night was intercepted by Quincy Wilson, clinching the victory for Florida.

“We always love that moment [the chance to win the game with a stop] because we always live by the motto ‘put the ball down,’” Wilson said.

That motto, “put the ball down,” was introduced by first-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who brought it with him from Mississippi State. As a former player explained, it means that whenever the referee puts the ball on the ground, regardless of where it is on the field, the defense is ready to go.

It didn’t take long for the Florida players to buy in.

“Coach Collins always stresses ‘put the ball down,’” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter what happens or where the ball’s at -- the 1-yard line, the 50-yard line – no matter what, when the ball is on the field, we’re ready to play. We’re ready to make plays. We’re ready to turn the ball over, three-and-out, it doesn’t matter. We’re just going to go out there and make plays.”

The Gators will need to be ready this weekend with Tennessee coming to town.

On offense, McElwain still hasn’t decided on his quarterback, telling reporters not to look too much into the fact that redshirt freshman Will Grier played the entire game against Kentucky. He left the door open for Treon Harris to make an appearance against the Volunteers on Saturday.

But he knows he has the luxury to tinker with the offense because of how confident he is in the defense. It’s not all that different from his first year as offensive coordinator at Alabama.

“It reminds me a little bit when we were finding a little bit of our identity back in 2008,” McElwain said. “It’s a defense that’s fun to watch. And here’s what I like – the way these guys have embraced each other. The excitement on the sideline when either side of the ball is on the field is really kind of good to see.”

That 2008 Alabama defense was good, but the 2009 group was even better.

And this Florida defense, chock full of future NFL players such as Vernon Hargreaves III, Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister and Antonio Morrison, resembles more of that Alabama defense from 2009.

“Every team is different,” McElwain said. “I just know this. These guys, they’re dialed in, they’re focused. It’s important to them. They do the extra [work]. They come prepared. It is very reminiscent to that [2009] group.”