Florida football looking to clean up tackling after opener filled with miscues

By Michael Phillips
August 30, 2019
Florida football looking to clean up tackling after opener filled with miscues

Image Credit: UAA Communications

For every sack (10) or tackle for loss (16) the No. 8 Florida Gators racked up in their 24-20 win over the Miami Hurricanes in Week 0, it seemed there was a missed tackle to go along with it. It was a sloppy opening game, and the Gators are understandably focused on cleaning up tackling issues that led to numerous big plays by the Canes in a game that was closer than it should have been.

“The biggest thing when you watch the game is obviously we’ve got to improve our tackling on the edge, and it’s really down to angles, just running through guys and those kind of things,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this week. 

Tackling issues are common early in the season, particularly in recent years, as teams don’t go all-out in practice as much anymore with far less live tackling. That can be tough on coaches as they prepare — and try to remind — players for the rigors of live game action.

“We don’t live tackle a lot in practice,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “You can’t. It’s a scary thing for coaches. The biggest thing for me when we scrimmage; I’m scared to death in scrimmages ’cause once you guys start hitting the ground, it’s not the guy nearly as much the guy with the ball or the guy doing the tackling. 

“It’s third party that all of a sudden a bunch of guys are hitting the guys and legs flying and guys getting rolled up from behind. That makes you nervous as a coach of protecting all these guys.”

Moving the game up a week didn’t do Florida any favors in that department either, though it did start camp a week earlier than normal. It’s simply an unfortunate consequence of more regulated practices, but every team is working within those same guidelines.

The Gators certainly understand that there is no justification in excuse-making or laying blame on first-game rust. 

“I think it’s just we all got to do better,” Grantham said. “We’ve got to coach better, and they’ve got to play better. There’s always a balance in practice of getting guys ready and prepared and keeping guys healthy. 

“So you always have that, but everybody’s got that same issue, so you’ve got to look at the plays you made — we made some plays in space. You watch, there were some good tackles; it’s just that when you’re in space like that for 80-some plays, 7-10 plays can get noticed and those are the ones we’ve got to get better at. 

“It’s really more about leverage, eye control, don’t stop your feet, understand where your target is, continue to go through your target, run through your target, wrap and squeeze and then get the guy down. It’s not like you’ve got to thud the guy and kill it. It’s get him on the ground. You’ve got to be able to do that. We’ll continue to work on that. We obviously addressed it [this week] in practice, and we’ll continue to do that … as we prepare for another opponent.”

With a week off before Florida hosts Tennessee-Martin in its 2019 home opener, there appeared to be ample time to work on its tackling issues. However, Hurricane Dorian — a category 3 storm threatening South Florida with tracking that may take it through the state — may affect the team’s practice schedule dramatically. The Gators have not made any changes to their schedule or next Saturday’s game at this time.

“I told our guys, ‘I loved our effort, and I love our attitude that we have,’” Mullen said of the team’s response. “I just think the attention to detail and the intensity in how we finish things in practice has gotta be better. Whether it’s finishing blocks on offense, whether it’s the exactness of all 11 guys and the execution on offense, or whether it’s thudding or wrapping up, making sure we’re in position to make tackles on defense that way.”

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