GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Florida hired Dan Mullen to take over its football program earlier this week, it fulfilled its primary need for a proven offensive coach who might finally be able to solve the Gators’ persistent and perplexing quarterback issues while breathing life into a lackluster attack.
But the truth is the Gators are in need of help on both sides of the ball after a dismal 4-7 season that included the most points allowed (27.27 per game) on record for the program, with data available back to 1946, and the most yards (349.3 per game) allowed since 2007.
Well, the Gators took an encouraging step toward addressing their defensive struggles as well Wednesday, with the Commercial Dispatch out of Mississippi reporting that Mullen is bringing Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with him to Florida.
Because if there’s one thing Grantham knows well, it’s taking on defensive reclamation projects.
Look no further than his most recent work for evidence.
Mississippi State ranked 110th nationally last season in total defense, giving up 459.1 yards per game. Grantham arrived, installed his aggressive 3-4 defense and the Bulldogs finished the regular season ranked 10th nationally in giving up only 302 yards per game.
That’s a seismic improvement, but it’s only the latest example for the well-traveled defensive coordinator who previously spent three seasons at Louisville and four seasons in the SEC at Georgia after a decade in the NFL.
When Mullen hired Grantham at Mississippi State last year, he said this, according to the Clarion Ledger: “ I want people, when they watch your defense play, to see an intimidating defense. I want people to see 11 guys flying to the ball with a chip on their shoulders and a nasty disposition to get after it. When you are led by a guy who is that way, your defense is going to play that way.”
Todd Grantham’s track record as a college defensive coordinator
|Year/School||YPG Allowed (National Rank)||PPG Allowed (National Rank)|
|2010/Georgia||328.5 (23rd)||22.08 (36th)|
|2011/Georgia||277.21 (5th)||20.57 (23rd)|
|2012/Georgia||357.8 (32nd)||19.64 (18th)|
|2013/Georgia||375.5 (45th)||29.0 (T-78th)|
|2014/Louisville||308.5 (6th)||21.8 (T-24th)|
|2015/Louisville||332.8 (18th)||24.1 (T-39th)|
|2016/Louisville||322.2 (14th)||23.8 (T-31st)|
|2017/Mississippi St.||302.0 (10th)||20.4 (24th)|
The one-year turnaround the fiery Grantham orchestrated for Mississippi State’s defense might be the biggest reason for encouragement for Florida fans, but it’s not the only one.
As the Clarion Ledger story notes, when Grantham was hired as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2005, he took over a defense that had allowed 24.4 points per game the previous season. Grantham changed the Browns from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and guided the unit to a significant improvement, allowing 18.8 points per game.
When he later returned to the college ranks as Georgia’s defensive coordinator in 2010, after getting his start at Virginia Tech and Michigan State in the 1990s, Grantham took over a unit that had ranked a respectable 38th nationally in total defense the year before (339.38). After a modest improvement in his first season, his Bulldogs finished the 2011 seasons 5th in yards allowed at a stingy 277.21.
Georgia dipped to 32nd nationally in total defense the next year while actually improving in scoring defense (ranking 18th nationally at 19.64 points per game), but the unit tumbled to 45th in yards allowed in 2013 (373.5 per game) while also ranking a disappointing tied for 78th in points allowed (29.0).
Grantham left for Louisville and restored his reputation with three impressive seasons ranking 6th, 18th and 14th in total defense before heading to Mississippi State.
In all but two of his seasons as a college defensive coordinator, Grantham’s units have ranked in the top 30 nationally in sacks. His units have averaged 34.1 sacks per game over the last seven seasons while Florida finished with 23 sacks this fall (albeit in only 11 games).
The hiring of Grantham aligns with Mullen’s comments Monday about what he wants to see from the Gators defensively.
“Defensively, I want to put as much pressure on the offense as possible, and an attacking, sound style of defense is going to be fast, physical and aggressive in everything that we do,” he said.
Assuming Grantham stays true to form, Florida will have to adjust to his 3-4 approach. The Gators return a lot of young defensive players and have some sizable rising-sophomore defensive tackles in T.J. Slaton, Elijah Conliffe and Kyree Campbell (a.k.a. “The Bam Bam Kids”) who could prove to be ideal fits at the nose position in that scheme. Veteran nose tackle Khairi Clark should also be back as a senior.
The question will come at linebacker, which proved to be Florida’s defensive weakness and thinnest position group in 2017. Rising-junior David Reese projects as a strong fit at inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme with his instinctual play and sure tackling, but the rest of the group will need further evaluation from the new coaching staff.
It will also be interesting to see how the Gators make use of pass-rush oriented defensive ends Jachai Polite, Jabari Zuniga and Antonneous Clayton, in a defensive system that normally relies on its outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback.
Overall, though, Grantham’s track record indicates he is a solid hire who has proven he can make his system work immediately and effectively.
Once again it looks like the Gators addressed an area of need in a way that should encourage and excite the fan base.
The post New Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a reputation of producing immediate results appeared first on SEC Country.
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