KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Defense was one of Florida's biggest question marks coming into the season, but through three games, the unit has proved its worth.
The Gators ended two Tennessee drives within their 5-yard line by forcing turnovers, and they kept the Volunteers off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter in their 30-6 win Saturday.
Coach Urban Meyer considered the goal-line stands game-changers. "The good thing is our guys never quit," he said. "Last year's defense, I wouldn't see much a stand like that."
The first stop came early in the second quarter with Tennessee poised to cut into the Gators' 17-0 lead.
The Volunteers methodically drove down the field, going 72 yards on 14 plays and eating up eight minutes on the clock. But a missed exchange between quarterback Jonathan Crompton and running back Arian Foster led to a fumble recovered by Carlos Dunlap at the Florida 2.
"It kind of sucked the air out of them," middle linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "Foster was beating himself up. He was so down when he fumbled it. I knew it was going to be over."
The second stop came with two seconds left in the first half when Janoris Jenkins made an interception in the end zone on fourth and goal from the UF 1.
"We're always talking about (how) we need a goal-line stand," defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "And for them to go down and make those two plays on the goal line, it was great for their confidence, because (Tennessee) drove the ball down, then we had those great stops."
Jenkins also forced a fumble on Tennessee's first drive by laying a huge hit on junior running back Montario Hardesty after he caught a pass.
"He's a very talented freshman, and he's got a lot of ability," Strong said of Jenkins, a cornerback. "He's played very well for us so far and played very well this day."
Jenkins did have one mistake — a pass-interference call late in the third quarter — but he made his mark. "If I hadn't (enrolled early) in January, I wouldn't have had this opportunity," he said. "I came in and made the best of it."
Spikes, a junior, sees the season as a chance for the defense to redeem itself.
"I had an opportunity to be here in '06 and watch those guys play," he said. "They played with a lot of passion and relentless effort. Last year we just had a lot of younger guys. They didn't really know what to expect. Losing four games — a lot of that was on the defense. We took it as a challenge and just wanted to get better."