Gators Defense Turning All Eyes to Swift

D'Andre Swift runs from Gators defense during the 2018 game—Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

Stop Swift, stop the Dawgs.

It may not be that easy. There's little chance it will be that easy. But it’s the best game plan to beating the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday and the No. 6 Florida Gators defense has their target acquired accordingly.

D’Andre Swift, the do it all offensive tool for the Bulldogs, is the teams leader on the ground and also adds enough yards through the air to be the Dawgs fifth leading receiver. He has 900 total yards of offense so far this season; the next closest is receiver George Pickens with 318 yards.

“He’s one of the best backs, if not the top back, in college football right now,” states Gators head coach Dan Mullen.

Adds defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, “I think that anytime you have an elite player like that you’re going to find ways to get him the ball. They’ll get him the ball in the run game obviously but they’ll find ways to swing it and get him the ball that way in space.

“He’s a guy that they try to get the ball out of the backfield. Anytime you have a guy that has his kind of speed and athletic ability, if he can catch just a simple option route in the flat, he can make a guy miss and turn it into a double digit gain. So, obviously, we’ve got to be aware of that and account for that.”

Defenses never want to give all their attention to just one player, leaving opportunities open for others guys to gash an unprepared defense. But Swift’s impact on the 6-1 Dawgs is impossible to ignore.

“Everything revolves around Swift,” explains BUCK Jon Greenard.

“If he’s going, they’re going to keep feeding him. If he’s not, they’re going to find a way to get him the ball and get some other playmakers involved. Everything goes through him. He’s a dynamic player, one of the best in the country behind (Lamical) Perine. He can make plays.”

Related: Watch Jon Greenard's media session for UGA week

So if Swift is the linchpin for the Georgia offense, then it stands to reason removing him is the key to winning the battles for the Florida defense. At least, that’s how corner Marco Wilson feels.

“It revolves a lot around 7. He’s a great running back so if we take him out of the game, we’ve got a good chance of stopping their offense. Really just gotta be physical, make sure we fit in our run gaps and don’t let him just hit the hole how he wants it.”

Fellow corner CJ Henderson agrees; “He’s a real good player. Emphasis on us as defensive backs, we’ve got to make open-field tackles. That’s going to be held on us…I think if you stop the run, it will be a good game for us.”

The numbers concur.

Swift has had 140+ total yards in four games this season, all wins. The other three were: Murray State, a 63-17 UGA win in which Swift didn’t even play in the second half; Notre Dame, a 23-17 close UGA win in which the Fighting Irish held Swift to 100 total yards and the Dawgs needed three field goals to help with the win; and the last sub-140 game for Swift was two weeks ago when he was held to 121 total offensive yards. That was the double overtime 20-17 loss to South Carolina.

It also works the other way. In a hard fought win over Kentucky, the Bulldogs didn't even enter Wildcat territory until the 3rd quarter. In the pouring rain with a 0-0 tie, Swift finally found footing to hoof it for a 39-yard touchdown and added another in route to his 171 total offensive yards, 123 of which were gained in the 2nd half.

So how do you stop the nation’s 16th best statistical rusher? For starters, don’t make it a one man job.

Gators tackle Swift during the 2018 game—Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

“You gotta get a bunch of guys to the ball,” says Mullen continuing, “he’s got breakaway speed, power, can make you miss in the open field. To sit there and say, ‘hey we’re one on one and you got to tackle him’, you got to get a couple guys to the party there and go tackle him.”

For Greenard, that means staying in Swift’s face with more than one guy and not giving him any open field to work with because, well, even Greenard—arguably the Gators defensive MVP this season—is smart enough to know better.

“We just gotta rally to the ball, tackle, put all 11 hats on him, make him feel us, make him feel uncomfortable. It’s going to be a tough one. He’s not going to give in easy. We’re not going to give in easy.

“He can make some plays now, I'm not gonna say—I know myself and I know my boundaries, but you know…let's be real here, we already know who one-on-one, give him 10 yards, he's gonna make something happen. But two yards? I like my chances.”

It’s more than just getting “11 hats on him” though. With someone elusive like Swift, bringing him down requires sound tackling, something that has admittedly been an issue for the Gators defense at times this season.

“Just making sure you’re wrapping up in practice, getting your fits, not getting lazy, running to the ball and just wrapping up in practice,” says Wilson.

Adds Mullen, “you got to fit your gaps. You got to be sound. If you give them an opening he’s got the speed to go take it to the house. If you leave him one on one he’s got the ability to make you miss. You got to do a great job of getting guys running to the football.”

Related: Swift and UGA players say Florida game is for "all the marbles"

The message is consistent team wide, because Grantham agrees and is preaching the plan this week.

“The big thing with him is he’s got really good acceleration. He can run through tackles. You’ve got to make sure your bring your pads and bring your feet, and you’ve got to take the air out of the hole, you’ve got to shrink it and give him less room to run because he’s a guy that can make the first guy miss. He can put his foot in the ground and change direction. He’ll run where you’re not.

“Playing defense against a guy like that it really gets down to team defense and making sure that we set the edge, build a wall and compress the running lanes to where he doesn’t have as much space to run the ball.”

It seems simple on paper. Stop Swift, stop the Dawgs.

It will be anything but easy. As Jon Greenard says though, that’s the best part.

“It’s going to be a fun one.”

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