Ryan Stamper and Carlos Dunlap
Faced with a bit of turmoil over their leader and captain having to sit out the game against Vanderbilt, the Florida defense didn't have much of a let down. The Gators held Vanderbilt to 199 total yards of offense and two turnovers keeping yet another opponent to less than 100 yards rushing. However, there is still one goal that eludes this defense and they were so close again.
Florida is having maybe their best statistical defensive year in team history, yet they haven't been able to hold an opponent to zero points.
“I was real disappointed,” senior linebacker Ryan Stamper said shortly after the game. “To be honest with you that was our goal to try and get a goose egg. Especially when we went in the first half and they hadn't scored on us. They got (just)the three points, so I guess that is still good.”
Stamper did all he could do Saturday subbing at middle linebacker for suspended captain and All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes. Stamper finished the game with six tackles and his second interception in his career which happened to be in back to back games.
“I am real comfortable in the middle,” Stamper said. “I played middle in high school and practiced at it all week, so I feel if I can practice it all week i can play it real well.”
In this game, he had some help. Junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap seemed to be everywhere and forcing the Vanderbilt offense into many bad plays. Dunlap was another Gator disappointed with the three points that Vandy scored.
“Ideally we wanted a goose egg,” Dunlap said. “We gave up a couple of big plays and he broke and got his feet in the red zone area and they were lucky enough to get the field goal. We also wanted to block the field goal after giving up the big plays. Those are a couple of things we still need to work on to be a great defense.”
Dunlap expected his teammates to take up the slack for Spikes, who has always been the leader on defense. In his absence, Stamper moved over and Dustin Doe slid into a starting spot. Doe led all Gators with 11 tackles on the night.
“Any time we have a man out, we have confidence in our two deep,” Dunlap said. “We expect the two's to come in and make the same plays as the starter. Any time we have a man down, we always want to play harder because of that...When one of your leaders is out you want to play harder for your leader.”
Stamper knows they have a solid two deep at linebacker.
“Dustin has stepped in a lot of games and played well,” Stamper said. “I think we have a lot of depth at linebacker with Jon Bostic and Brandon Hicks. Any one of us goes down, we have a lot of depth there.”
Even with Spikes out, he was able to help with the emotion of the team., getting the defense wired up before coming out onto the field.
“He's the same Brandon Spikes and he was a leader off the field with this team (tonight),” Stamper said. “Brandon pretty much got things going for the team before the game.”
A lot of folks want to compare this defense to the one in 2006. That was a big time defense led by a line that had four NFL linemen that would be on NFL teams the very next year.
“I feel like we are playing pretty good, '06 is '06 and we are who we are,” Dunlap said. “We want to come out and play a lot better. If we just make those couple of plays we can be the defense we want to be.”
“I think this defense can be as good as '06 and I think last year's defense was as good as '06,” Stamper said. “That is a really good stat and we try and keep teams out of the end zone. They had that 40-yard run, but we bend but don't break. They are going to get plays, it is football, just try not to let them in the end zone.”
Dunlap is coming into his own. After an early season slump and not showing up on the stat sheet very much, he has now become a force up front and is creating havoc in the backfield early and often in contests. He leads all linemen with 30 tackles, ranks first on the team in tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (6). He also has three passes broken up and a quarterback hurry.
Some of it has to do with a healthy Jermaine Cunningham on the opposite side who is not allowing teams to double team Dunlap very often.
“We have a lot more play makers,” Dunlap said. “Jermaine came on and is playing like he can and it is taking pressure off of me. If you double team him someone else is going to make a play, if you double team me someone else will make a play. I am not seeing double teams as often as I was, it's just football and I am also playing a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season.”
Besides winning the games, there is that one elusive goal that this defense still relishes. This week the three points was set up by one long run by a freshman running back, caused by a breakdown.
“It makes you real mad, because it can be just one missed assignment and it makes the whole defense look bad,” Stamper said. “We got it back together and held them to a field goal.”
That is three more points than they care to give anyone.