Florida vs. Kentucky, Theater of Operations: The defense shines against the Wildcats

Andy Lyons

The Florida Gators gave up a total of 173 yards to a Kentucky Wildcats offense that entered the game hoping to find their rhythm. The Gators weren't about to accommodate.

The Florida Gators' stifling defense set out to give the Kentucky Wildcats no favors Saturday night and they accomplished just that. The Gators allowed a total of 173 yards (125 passing, 48 rushing) en route to a 24-7 win in which the outcome was hardly ever in doubt.

And that's taking into account the Wildcats' fake field goal run for a touchdown.

The Gators dominated time of possession, allowing the Wildcats offense to take the field for just under 22 minutes of game time. The Gators allowed 2.3 yards per rush in a great performance that showed that they just might be fine without all-world performer Dominique Easley, even though that's probably easier to say after Kentucky than, say, Florida State.

Nevertheless, the Gators had five sacks, eight tackles for loss and an interception (Vernon Hargreaves III has got to be a future Jim Thorpe Award winner, right?) in what I would call their best performance of the season. Dante Fowler Jr. looks primed to take over the role of defensive leader, while Ronald Powell appears back and ready to wreak havoc on the SEC.

Now if we can just get Loucheiz Purifoy to straighten out his game.

Play No. 1: Jonathan Bullard's sack

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Couple of things here: First, this sack is a somewhat accidental one for Bullard, and second, it's all about Ronald Powell. Powell is going to burst off the edge and force Maxwell Smith to step up into the pocket and right into the waiting arms of Bullard.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Powell is unblocked and coming off the edge. Meanwhile, Bullard, who is at the top of the defensive line, is still being blocked. Smith is about to scramble right through the line and try and get to daylight.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Bullard releases from his block at the exact moment that Smith makes his way through the line. I'm not sure if Smith is falling to begin with (it looks like it on video one second, then it doesn't) but, anyway, it's a great play for Bullard who is supposed to shine on the defensive line this year.

Play No. 2: Alex Montgomery gets hit by Jabari Gorman

This play, in my opinion, is the play of the game. Nothing sets the tone and/or destroys the will of an opponent like a great defensive hit. For another example, see Major Wright in the BCS National Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Also, to move things along, we're going to just look at the hit and not the entire development of the play.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Now, it's my understanding, after talking to a few people and reading the rulebook, that since the player left his feet, this can be ruled targeting, yes? I'm not so sure about this one. I think it's just a very solid play.

If plays like this are taken out of the game, then football is a doomed sport. It's the most popular sport in America for a reason and eliminating this stuff or calling it a penalty is just ridiculous. I understand player safety and all, but when Robert Griffin III slides heads first and it isn't considered giving up on a play ... I don't understand it. Yes, that's in the professional ranks, but come on. Can't have it both ways.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Is that leading with the crown of the helmet, or helmet to helmet contact? The crown argument could be made, I guess, but not the helmet-to-helmet contact one. I'm not even sure Gorman fully left the ground: Check out where his feet are.

Great play.

Play No. 3: Smith is sacked by Dante Fowler Jr.

This is the second sack by Fowler Jr., as this one and the first one are very similar.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

On this sack and the previous one, it appears as if the left tackle for the Wildcats just moves out of the way on purpose. But upon second and third review, it's obvious that it's a miscommunication about what exactly what was the correct blocking/protection scheme.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The left tackle isn't even paying Fowler any attention. The fact that this occurred on what seemed like back-to-back plays is just ridiculous.

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

I don't care what Florida State fans say, Fowler is a beast. He has a chance to be one of the best defensive players to ever come through Gainesville.

Play No. 4: Just because Vernon Hargreaves III is amazing:

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(Photo courtesy of ESPN)

It's getting to the point where Vernon Hargreaves III just might be the best man-to-man cover corner the Gators have. I know that others get more publicity or are more highly regarded by opposing teams, but this is getting ridiculous. I've always been careful with lavishing praise too quickl,y but this kid is proving that it might not even matter. Sure, he's a true freshman and he is going to make mistakes, but I think he's a great one.

The Gators will live and die by the defense this year, we all know that. But I'm thinking that I'd rather have it that way.

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