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September 4, 2011

Defense turns in dominating performance

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley put on a show Saturday night, both in his constant penetration and his frequent dance moves.

"Easley sucks at dancing. He's terrible," redshirt junior Omar Hunter said. "He sucks at dancing. But you know what? He keeps us going when he does that. He brings a lot of juice to this team, and I love him for that."

"Juice" seemed to be the keyword of the night for the Gators in their season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls.

Freshmen like De'Ante Saunders and Marcus Roberson not only started but proved to teammates they weren't afraid of the Ben Hill Griffin spotlight.

"I just told the guys don't be tight," Hunter said. "My first game that I ever played in The Swamp, I was tight. That crowd was getting to me."

The two freshman defensive backs played solid, combining for five tackles and not allowing any big plays down the field by FAU receivers. Owl quarterback Graham Wilbert was held to just 107 yards passing, due also in large part to a strong pass rush from Easley and friends.

"Very pleased that we were able to get some edge pressure," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "It's hard to get pressure against people like this as far as their pocket movement is concerned."

Jaye Howard and Ronald Powell -- who garnered plenty of off-season headlines for his transition to the Buck position -- each recorded a sack, but it was Easley who seemed to stifle the run game. FAU running back Alfred Morris entered Saturday night coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but was held to 28 yards on 14 carries against Florida.

"Dominique Easley is a monster," Hunter said. "A monster. He came in hungry, wanting to play. Tonight, he really showed that he's a good football player."

The front seven made things easy for a secondary that people were questioning. Florida had never started two freshmen in a secondary on opening day in school history.

"They make it very easy," sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs said. "I couldn't ask for a better front-seven."

But while Saturday night was all about fun, everyone who spoke said they know things aren't perfect. Hunter believes this defense is capable of getting to the quarterback much more than it did against the Owls. He wants to improve on being more alert to different formations opposing offenses are running as well.
And then there is the obvious fact of competition level.

"We'll face better this year," Muschamp said. "But for a first ball game, our communication and execution was decent."

It also must be fully noted that the Gators were without one of their largest defensive pieces, something that could continue to be the case going forward.

Sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd was ruled ineligible indefinitely by the NCAA for undisclosed reasons before Saturday's game. The lineman had been a big part of Florida's plans, but no players were willing to talk about the mysterious situation after the game.

"I have no comment on that," Riggs said.

What they could comment on was a hard-nosed defense that looks ready to contend again. Under the tutelage of Dan Quinn.

"We can be great," Hunter said. "We keep stepping up and getting better, there's not telling where we can be at the end of the season."


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