There’s a lot of new for the Florida Gators’ defense. The new defensive coordinator, Austin Armstrong, is off to a great start in turning around a defense that has plagued Florida for a few seasons now. And he’s doing it with a youth movement that is paying off. The 2023 Florida defense features a majority of underclassmen players (two seasons or fewer) who lead the team in multiple categories.
- Sophomore LB Shemar James is first in total tackles with 22 and freshman S Jordan Castell is second with 20.
- James and redshirt-freshman DL Jamari Lyons are tied for first with 2.0 TFLs – Lyon’s tackle-for-loss resulted in a three-yard loss and safety in the home opener against McNeese.
- Freshman CB Ja’Keem Jackson leads in pass breakups with two, which he recorded on the same drive vs. McNeese – tied for most by a first-year player in the SEC.
- The trio of Castell (136 snaps), Mitchell (134 snaps) and James (126 snaps) rank one-two-four in defensive snaps played, with three-year stared DB Jason Marshall Jr. 3rd overall at 133 snaps.
- Castell has also started the last two straight games at safety and led the team in tackles (10) vs. No. 11 Tennessee. He paced the defense with six tackles (team-leader) in the first-half at Utah.
- Ten of the 12 Class of 2023 defensive signees have played in all three games to start the season and have totaled 364 defensive snaps.
The performance of these young players has greatly improved the Florida defense in the early stages of the 2023 season. In the first three games, Florida has only allowed 47 points (15.7 per game), compared to 80 points in 2022 – a 33 point improvement. Additionally, Florida’s opponents are now limited to an average of 256.3 total yards per game, a 117-yard improvement from last year’s average of 373.3 yards per game in the first three games. The Gators currently rank 10th in the FBS and first in the SEC in total defense, with an average of 256.3 yards per game.
Additionally for the Florida defense:
- Florida has only allowed 36 total first downs, which ranks third in the FBS and first in the SEC, compared to 65 given up in the first three games last year.
- In the last ten quarters, Florida has limited opposing offenses to a total of 537 yards (53.7 yards per quarter).
- At Utah, the Gators held the No. 14 Utes to just 38 total yards in the second half – the team’s lowest total in a half since 18 vs. Vanderbilt on Nov. 9, 2019.
- In the home opener vs. McNeese, UF held the Cowboys to 46 total rushing yards, the fewest since 44 vs. South Carolina last season. Florida also limited McNeese to 66 passing yards, the fewest since Charleston Southern in 2018.
- Florida held No. 11 Tennessee to its third-fewest points (16) in the Josh Heupel era. The Gators also hold the mark for the second-fewest points allowed in the head coach’s tenure with 14 points allowed in 2021.
The Florida Gators’ defense has undergone a remarkable transformation under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong. With a focus on young talent, the 2023 Florida defense is led by underclassmen players who have excelled in various categories. With a strong start to the season, the Gators’ defense has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the SEC.
Photo credit: Maddie Washburn, UAA Communications