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UF pass defense goes from worst to bad

If anything was to be different about the 1994 Florida team, it would be improved pass coverage. Steve Spurrier was adamant about it in the off-season and truly believed it by the preseason.

The Gators were not going to be dead last in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense again. So now they're second-to-last.

The Gators were not going to allow quarterbacks to complete 56 percent of their passes and ring up 225 yards a game. So they're completing 54 percent for 226 yards.

The Gators would not experience total panic when it came time to face Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier. Which explains why there have been only sporadic outbreaks of panic this week.

"You can see that we have not really completely turned the corner on pass defense," Spurrier said this week. "We've played pretty decent, I thought, until the last game. I think we need to play the whole year to see where we really are.

"Auburn threw the ball pretty well against us, and we're going to face the best passing team we'll see all year this week."

It was precisely this time last year that Spurrier became fixated on his pass coverage. He moved a wide receiver and a running back into the secondary and he abandoned some of his offensive duties to work on pass defense before the Georgia game.

It hasn't been quite that hectic for pre-Georgia 1994, but there are signs that all is neither hunky nor dory in the secondary.

Spurrier made a point of saying any changes will be made by defensive coordinator Bobby Pruett, but he did indicate that changes are in order following a 319-yard passing performance by Auburn's Patrick Nix in the last game.

"We need to have more defensive backs out there when the other team is obviously throwing," Spurrier said. "We all know that."

Pruett was brought in from Tulane this spring specifically to deal with improved pass coverage. And even if some of the statistics suggest otherwise, Pruett says goals have been met.

Florida has shut down most teams' running attacks and has gone from allowing 19.75 points a game to 16.

Pruett contends that eliminating the big-play scores was his primary objective and UF has done that. Through the first six games last season, Florida gave up seven touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Through six games this year, there has been only one.

"We've done a really good job in some areas, and in some areas we need improvement," Pruett said. "On third down we've been extremely successful. Sometimes on first down and second down, when we're not in our pass-coverage package, we've given up some things."

It is important, Pruett said, not to look at passing numbers in a vacuum. If the defensive line is not getting pressure on a quarterback, defensive backs are in trouble. If linebackers are not helping shut down the running game, defensive backs are in trouble.

"Going into the Auburn game, we were leading the nation in run defense and we were being very effective against the pass," Pruett said. "Then Auburn starts running the ball for triple the amount of yardage we're used to giving up. All of the sudden, they've got guys running open over the middle because we were changing our pass coverages to stop the run."

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