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Florida vs. East Carolina, Theater of Operations: Gators' defense a mess to clean up

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Florida's defense has plenty to work on prior to Saturday.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After New Mexico State, we took a look at how Florida's defense under Geoff Collins would look different than what we saw Will Muschamp establish over the last three years, and after East Carolina's time in town, we were able to get a wider look at how Collins' defense fared against better competition.

As pointed out in our first defensive overview, Jonathan Bullard's pass rushing presence remained the focal point for the defense. Two games into the season, Bullard is tied for most tackles for loss on the team, and has stopped runners for a total of negative 16 yards against the offense on those tackles.

Despite Florida giving up over 300 yards in the air, the Gators held ECU running back Chris Hairston to 15 yards rushing off 17 carries, which is juuuust a bit less than his 154 yards on 18 carries he had the week before. Sometimes statistics don't always tell the whole tale, but in terms of shutting down the running game, the stats told the story fine. Florida was able to get consistent push against the pocket and really made handing the ball off a test of its own. They're currently holding opposing offenses to just 25 rushing yards per game; being all but forced to throw is part of why both teams to play Florida have had aerial success.

The Gators came out with a win, but they made it harder on themselves than it had to be. I had two main takeaways from the defense's performance this week, one positive and one negative: Missed tackles and the play of Quincy Wilson.

Missed Tackles

Open field tackles aren't as easy as we like to get upset about while we sit on our couches, but finishing a play can be the difference between a two yards loss and a first down. Florida had a few too many of those "shoulda been" tackles on Saturday, and they came from all across depth chart.

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I'm sure Joey Ivie, Antonio Morrison, and Alex Anzalone all saw those plays in their first post-game film session, and I guarantee their misses were the first things their coaches pointed out to them. Just like leaving points on the field on offense, you can't leave tackles like that left unfinished. You've already done the work to put yourself in position to make the play, now go make it.

Quincy Wilson's Moment(s)

With Vernon Hargreaves III playing it extremely safe by sitting out last week, Quincy Wilson was given the nod to make his debut as a full-game starter at outside corner. Despite giving up that early touchdown, I thought he performed well. There were certainly a few plays where you can tell he needs work to become a shutdown corner, but I like what I've seen early on.

Let's take a look at that touchdown play first, which, surprisingly, I'm actually going to give him a positive grade on.

Lockdown Ability

Here's the play, and as you re-watch it, the coverage isn't bad. We start with Wilson playing up in press coverage, which allows him to use his long arms to bump receivers off their route. Wilson extends his arms and does just that. Once he realized his man is on a nine route (just running straight down the field as fast as he can), Wilson goes to full speed and gets pretty close to the receiver. By the time the ball arrives at the catch point, Wilson had himself in good position for a possible takeaway.

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The ball is placed on the money, and even then, Wilson lets the ball go right through his hands. This is a tough play for a defender to make, but I wouldn't fault Wilson too much for that one. He played the ball as well as he could during the entire course of the route, and the stop just literally slipped through his hands.

Body Length

At 6'2", Wilson is able to use his longer wingspan to disrupt routes and bump receivers towards an area that gives him an advantage (the sideline, into double coverage, etc.). This physical advantage is maximized in press coverage. As we'll see below, Wilson can completely shut down a wide receiver screen by getting his arms up and into the receiver at the line of scrimmage (which is allowed).

By the time the quarterback turns to throw, there's no hands up to catch the ball. This is one of the way Wilson's skills make him an outside corner rather than a safety or slot corner. His ability to press on the outside gives him the best chance to get the most out of his skill set and his body type.

Open Field Tackling

We talked earlier about Florida needing to tighten up their open-field tackles, but surprisingly the defensive backs were the most reliable, even with Hargreaves and Keanu Neal out with injuries.

As a press corner, it's key that Wilson is able to make tackles on all kinds of bodies: Big receivers, quick receivers, speed backs, power backs, etc. Even when Wilson would play off coverage, his instincts to close the gap and end the play were reliable.

All cornerbacks wish they could come away from a game with zero catches against them, but that's just not realistic most of the time. Sometimes, you're told to keep everything in front of you and just not give up the big play or make any mistakes; certainly, this seems like a rational explanation for Florida's coverage schemes against ECU. If you want to play against the best receivers, that can be how you limit them. Wilson does a nice job of that here and has been up to the challenge of bringing down any ball carrier so far. When he has to bring down bigger and faster SEC running backs, that's when we'll really see how strong of a tackler he is.

It wasn't a perfect game for Wilson. One way I'd really like to see him improve is in his change-of-direction coverage. Here's what I mean.

I saw this a few times where Wilson was up in press, would go to get his arms on the receiver, but a quick slant route would leave him a step or two behind. Wilson has the straight line and closing speed to keep up with most receivers who are running north-to-south. But when those quicker players use one-step cuts to get their separation at the line, that's where we see Wilson get exposed. This is another sign of how he's better when dealing with outside routes. However, he shouldn't accept that as a weakness; anticipation and awareness can help overcome a relative disparity in agility.

Those are my defensive notes for Week 2. Another quick point I'd make was that it was great seeing Brian Poole back in the full-time slot corner back role. He truly thrives in that position. It was also great watching Jalen Tabor take yet another step of progression last week with some great coverage and a pick six. This secondary could be scary good next week as they will likely have both Neal and Hargreaves back.