The tape sure wasn’t pretty. After the No. 11 Florida Gators defeated the Miami Hurricanes 24-20 in a Week 0 showdown, head coach Dan Mullen and players sat down and addressed the elephant in the room…missed tackles.
The offense led by Feleipe Franks hold on to score two much needed second half touchdowns and the defensive line was smothering, sacking Canes quarterback Jarren Williams 10 times. But on the backend, there were a noticeable amount of missed tackles and whiffs.
“There were a bunch,” says Mullen, sounding exasperated.
“We added it up and discussed it…I do think it was close to almost half, we felt that almost half the yardage that we gave up in that game we after, yards after contact or were the result of a missed tackle.”
Adds defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, “We’ve got to coach better and they've got to play better. There's always a balance in practice of getting guys ready and prepared and keeping guys healthy. So you always have that, but everybody's got that same issue, so you've got to look at the plays you made; we made some plays in space. You watch, there were some good tackles, it's just that when you're in space like that for 80-some plays, seven to 10 plays can get noticed and those are the ones we've got to get better.”
It was a few more than 7-10; the number has fluctuated between different statistical keeping sites, but it stays between 20-22. But the idea remains the same. Focus on what went wrong to build on what went right.
Continues Grantham, “It’s really more about leverage, eye control, don't stop your feet, understand where your target is, continue to go through your target, run through your target, wrap and squeeze and then get the guy down. It's not like you've got to thud the guy and kill it. It’s get him on the ground.”
Practicing the technique is where Mullen fears the Gators weren’t best prepared. The head coach explains that live tackling in practice is the scariest thing for a coach because it can lead to preventable injuries—“I'm scared to death in scrimmages,” he admits—but then being regulated to just thudding creates bad habits.
With the assistance of an employee from the UAA, Mullen demonstrated how a guy will just run past an offensive player in practice, essentially playing two hand touch, and count it as a tackle. In reality, they should be wrapping them up. Arguing that they made the tackle in practice can be humbling though when seeing how it translates to the game.
“Here’s the play in practice, here’s the same play in the game. You’re telling me you made that tackle in practice, well here’s the exact picture from the game and you absolutely did not—running by him like you did—make that tackle. How you get yourself into position in practice has got to be different. You can teach a lot off that.”
The Canes gained 301 total offensive yards (Florida’s offense was able to outgain them by by three yards) with 12 chunk plays. Of those 12, there were eight passing chunk plays—gains of 15+ yards—and four rushing chunk plays—those of 10+ yards. Two of those, one each passing and rushing, went for touchdowns. DeeJay Dallas’ 50-yard touchdown run stands out as one of the most glaring examples of the Gators tackling issue in the game.
Addressing the issue became more than just a talking point though. It was the catalyst for changing how practice is conducted.
“It was big in our practice. It was just everybody running to the ball, getting the first game jitters out. We’ll be fine,” assures linebacker David Reese.
“Our practice picked up and our thudding on the ball carrier picked up and how we ran to the ball. So, it’s going to improve all throughout the season.”
The improvements can be ten-fold for the entire team according to Mullen and serve as a bedrock for the mindset he wants the Florida Gators to have for their 2019 campaign.
“I told our guys, I loved our effort and I love our attitude that we have. I just think the attention to detail and the intensity in how we finish things in practice has gotta be better. Whether it’s finishing blocks on offense, whether it’s the exactness of all 11 guys and the execution on offense or whether it’s thudding or wrapping up, making sure we’re in position to make tackles on defense that way.
“I’m one you can never get enough reps of anything, so if you don’t finish or go hard in a rep you miss that one opportunity and you can never get enough.”