Bill Connelly plays the “if” game with the top national programs, as in the number of “ifs” it takes to make each a true title contender. The top three, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, are in the two-“if” tier, followed by the three-“if” programs, starting with Georgia (If … Jamie Newman lives up to the PFF hype.; If … one more receiver emerges.; If … the havoc rate continues to climb.)
Here’s Florida’s first “if”:
If … the third-down defense improves (and without Jonathan Greenard). Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes to keep the game simple when possible: If it’s third-and-long, he’s bringing pressure. When it works, it works — the Gators were eighth overall in sack rate, first on blitz downs (second-and-super-long, third-and-5 or more). But it didn’t get the defense off the field as well as it should have.
The Gators ranked just 53rd in third-and-long success rate allowed, 54th on third-and-medium. And that was with Greenard racking up 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Most of the lineup outside of Greenard returns — 12 of 17 players with 250-plus snaps — and while first-round corner CJ Henderson is gone, Marco Wilson is back, and sophomore Kaiir Elam is ready for a star turn. There is no specific weakness that needs addressing; it’s just been a whole-vs.-sum-of-parts issue on third downs, and it has to be rectified.
He didn’t say third-and-Grantham, but that’s okay. We know what he meant.