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Florida Gators' run defense to be put to SEC's toughest test

Defensive end Lerentee McCray and Florida held UAB and running back Bashr Coles to 71 net yards rushing in UF’s 39-0 win Sept. 10.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Defensive end Lerentee McCray and Florida held UAB and running back Bashr Coles to 71 net yards rushing in UF’s 39-0 win Sept. 10.

GAINESVILLE — When preseason practice began in August, Florida coach Will Muschamp said a primary defensive objective was to be aggressive and have a solid ability to defend against the run.

So far, the Gators have been successful in that endeavor.

UF is tied for fifth in the nation in run defense, allowing 56.6 yards per game, and is the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. Florida opponents have rushed for 226 yards on 110 attempts, a 2.1 average.

But in five of its next six games, UF faces seven of the SEC's top 10 running backs — from Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina.

To survive and be successful, the Gators must be even more diligent in stopping the run.

On Saturday, that means finding a way to contain the Alabama duo of Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

"He's very talented," UF linebacker Jelani Jenkins said of Richardson. "He can beat you with speed; he can beat you with power. And he has a really good field of vision. So we're going to have to really game-plan against him."

Richardson and Lacy are ranked No. 2 and No. 7 in the league in rushing. Lacy's practice is limited while he recovers from a partially torn pectoral muscle, but Alabama coach Nick Saban said he is expected to play.

Richardson, the junior who spent his first two years in the shadow of former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, leads the Tide with 110.2 yards per game. Lacy backs him up with 91.2 per game.

Richardson and other Tide players believe they could have a slight advantage in that they've seen a Muschamp-led defense before. Muschamp was Texas' defensive coordinator when the Tide defeated the Longhorns in the 2010 BCS national title game.

"Oh, yeah, their defense is always going to be like Coach Saban's," Richardson said. "It's very difficult. They come with a lot of blitzes. They come with a lot of different stuff we haven't seen. Well, stuff we do see in practice. We know Coach Saban is going to prepare us for that. We'll have to go against our defense the whole week. I know Dont'a (Hightower) is going to be coming at me, and (Courtney) Upshaw is going to be coming at me. We're going to be going at each other just trying to be prepared for this game."

The Gators expect a strong challenge from Alabama's offensive line, which defensive tackle Omar Hunter said was one of the most formidable he faced last season.

Florida tackled poorly in last season's 31-6 loss at Alabama. Muschamp believes that will be a critical part of taking away the Tide's running game.

"More than anything, playing blocks well up front, disengaging and then tackling," Muschamp said. "It's going to come down to tackling. Trent Richardson is a really good player, and Eddie Lacy is a really good player. They have really good running backs that are hard-nosed tough players, and we just need to tackle them. It's going to come down to some one-on-ones where we've got to tackle well in the open field. This is certainly the best running team we're going to face; there's no question about that."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Florida Gators' run defense to be put to SEC's toughest test 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:03pm]
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