Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

UF corners shrug flags for results

GAINESVILLE — Will Muschamp constantly gives his cornerbacks high-risk, high-stress assignments.

They work alone, desperate to keep a receiver occupied long enough for Florida's pass rush to invade the backfield. Not only do they shoulder the responsibility of man-to-man coverage with little or no safety net, they play bump-and-run at the line of scrimmage and chase receivers downfield without an eye on the quarterback.

More often than not, corners such as Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson are winning those battles. As No. 6 Florida prepares for its final regular-season game, Saturday at No. 10 Florida State, it leads Division I-A in pass efficiency defense.

"We put a lot of pressure on our guys, and our guys rise up and make plays," Muschamp said of his corners. "If people understood how much pressure we put on our guys, they'd probably be a little more understanding every now and then about a pass-interference call."

Every pass-interference penalty is frustrating, but the Gators tolerate many of them as simply the cost of their playing style. Florida emphasizes denying short passes and pressuring the backfield. Muschamp said that is the plan, as opposed to playing back and leaving space underneath the coverage, at least 80 percent of the time.

If that means defensive backs commit pass interference or defensive holding, which they have done 12 times (three were declined), so be it.

"Sometimes it's a bang-bang play," Muschamp said. "That's where I get frustrated sometimes when people complain about pass interference. Well, you know, the way we play, sometimes there is contact. That's part of the deal."

Roberson and Purifoy have been flagged three times each, though two of Roberson's were declined. Watkins has been caught once.

The tradeoff: Roberson is second in the SEC with 11 pass breakups, Watkins is sixth with eight and Purifoy has five. Watkins also leads Florida with three interceptions. The Gators are 13th in I-A with 63 passes broken up or intercepted.

Because those corners are dependable, Florida can use a variety of blitzes and schemes without worrying about receivers running free.

The unit will be tested extensively Saturday. Florida State has one of the best passing attacks in the ACC. The Seminoles have six players with at least 20 catches and average 281.5 passing yards.

Florida's pass defense is No. 19 in I-A, allowing 185.8 yards per game. The Gators have held opponents to 17 completions or fewer in seven of their past eight games.

"It's very difficult, especially against some of the skilled people we've played against," Muschamp said. "It's not that we ask them to do a lot of stuff, but we ask them to do a difficult job."

Ballhawking TCU topples No. 18 Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Christian could get used to these Thanksgiving games. Given their first chance to play one since 1928, the Horned Frogs beat No. 18 Texas to get the biggest win of their first season in the Big 12.

Matthew Tucker scored two touchdowns, Jaden Oaberkrom kicked two field goals and TCU's defense forced four turnovers, three by Texas quarterback David Ash in the first half. Shortly after the Horned Frogs had dumped their old Southwest Conference rivals 20-13, purple-clad fans sprinkled among the burnt-orange of Royal-Memorial Stadium chanted "T-C-U!"

"I'm going to probably get home sometime tomorrow and go out in the street and yell," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

The Horned Frogs (7-4, 4-4) picked off two passes near their own goal line to kill Texas scoring drives and picked up an Ash fumble at the Texas 16 that set up Tucker's second touchdown. The Horned Frogs also dominated the line of scrimmage, running the ball 48 times for 217 yards and passing just 10 times.

Ash was relieved by Case McCoy, who led a late touchdown drive before an interception by Sam Carter in the final two minutes sealed the win.

Texas (8-3, 5-3) had won four in a row and came in with an outside shot at the Big 12 title or a BCS bowl bid with a win.

"We missed a great opportunity to get back in the mix for some things," coach Mack Brown said. "You can't win a football game when you have four turnovers."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Published: 04/22/18