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Florida’s defense is why the Gators are 5-1

Florida ranks 11th in the country in Defensive S&P+.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If Florida’s offense has been a bit ugly, its defense has made opposing offenses ugly this season as well.

In terms of S&P+, Florida’s defense will be the second-best that Vanderbilt has faced this season. Notre Dame ranks 5th nationally, but Florida’s defense (11th) is better than the one Vanderbilt saw at Georgia last week (19th.) The Gators do well at preventing successful plays (34.6% defensive success rate, 13th nationally) — and when you do create scoring opportunities, Florida snuffs those out as well. Opponents are averaging just 3.11 points per scoring opportunity, the second-lowest mark in the country.

We’ll take a pause to point out that the raw numbers are probably dragged down by playing some flat-out unimpressive offenses: Florida has played FCS Charleston Southern, Kentucky (90th in Offensive S&P+), Colorado State (95th), Tennessee (30th — wait, what?!), Mississippi State (48th), and LSU (49th.) When Tennessee is the best offense you’ve seen, well, you haven’t played any really good offenses. (Vanderbilt ranks 80th in Offensive S&P+, if you were wondering.)

Still, the Gators’ defensive line is excellent. Junior ends Jachai Polite (6 sacks this season) and Jabari Zuniga (4.5 sacks) are two of the SEC’s best; Polite has also forced four fumbles. Behind him, junior LB Vosean Joseph has 28.5 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks; Chauncey Gardner-Johnson — who plays a kind of hybrid safety/linebacker role similar to Oren Burks at Vanderbilt — has a team-leading 29 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

Opponents have had some success running on Florida, but between the pass rush and a good secondary, the Gators have one of the best pass defenses in the SEC. Safety Brad Stewart leads the team with two interceptions, while CB C.J. Henderson has four pass breakups.