GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is playing better defensively in the second half and fourth quarter partly because of what the Gators are doing in the first half.
UF's additional depth along the defensive line and at linebacker means the Gators are playing more players early in the game, which is keeping their top-line players fresher for the second half. That has been especially noticeable in their two SEC games. Florida held Texas A&M and Tennessee to just 125 combined yards, forced two turnovers and forced nine punts in the fourth quarter.
"At the end of the game you really need those guys to go win the game," defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Wednesday afternoon.
The No. 14 Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC) rotated seven defensive linemen last season, but lost tackle Jaye Howard to graduation. UF added freshmen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard and juco transfer Damien Jacobs, which means the Gators have nine players in the rotation.
At linebacker, the Gators have gotten a boost from the return of Neiron Ball (he missed 2011 because of a burst blood vessel in his brain) and the emergence of freshman Antonio Morrison. That has allowed UF to rest Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins -- the Gators' two best linebackers -- some in the first half.
Quinn said the additional bodies has helped the pass rush the most. UF sacked UT QB Tyler Bray once, picked him off once time and pressured him relentlessly in the second half of the Gators' 37-20 victory last Saturday. UF sacked Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel once in the fourth quarter and corralled the freshman throughout the second half.
"To finish a game and have some rushers available in the fourth quarter, you need to be able to have a defensive line that's able to go in there and still have the ability to go do that," Quinn said. "For us, it's been kind of part of the plan to build some depth and be able to have more of a rotation where we could go longer into the games and feel like at the end of the games, we could still have a chance to affect the quarterback.
"Every time you can go out there and know that at the end of the game you have some people that are fresh and able to go rush the quarterback, I think it’s an important thing that can be overlooked because at times."