Tape It Up: Florida: Defensive Pains

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Florida: Defensive Pains

Florida's 2006 national championship team was known for its defense. The 2007 incarnation, not so much. Florida's defenders are young and inexperienced, and Saturday's loss to Georgia exposed them as such. The loss also banged them up even further, peppering the Gators with injuries and robbing them of at least two key contributors.

Starting defensive tackle Javier Estopinian is gone for the season after the junior suffered his third ACL injury in three years, this time tearing it. The 6-foot-1, 278-pound starter should return for his senior season (and a chance to make it a perfect four injuries in four years), but for now the Gators will have to find someone to replace his 19 tackles, including three for a loss, a sack, a broken up pass and a QB hurry.

Backup defensive tackle Terron Sanders will also miss at least a few games with a high ankle sprain. Florida coaches are saying that Georgia offensive lineman Trinton Sturdivant hit Sanders with a low block to cause the injury, but intentional or not, Sanders is hurt.

Those two losses will not help a defense that ranks 48th in the nation, allowing 359 yards per game, and just 87th against the pass. Florida is also 87th in the country in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert 42.6 percent of their third down opportunities. Plus, they're not the only defenders that are hurting.

Cornerback Markihe Anderson never fully recovered from a preseason knee sprain, safety Major Wright has a broken thumb that kept him out of all defensive plays against Georgia, defensive end Derrick Harvey is struggling with a hip pointer and tackle Clint McMillan hurt his shoulder against the Bulldogs.

The very depleted defensive line was already playing without Brandon Antwine, who spent 10 days in the hospital with a back injury, leaving the Gators with three defensive tackles: McMillan, freshman Lawrence Marsh and freshman Torrey Davis. Florida can either play a three-man line next weekend, or move Harvey, Duke Lemmons, Carlos Dunlap or Justin Trattou inside.

"The expectation level of playing defense at Florida, that bar is pretty high," head coach Urban Meyer said. "I don't want to pin it all on defense because it's certainly not that. But the plan to win, No. 1, is always to play great defense. Make a stop in any on of those three [losses] and there's a chance you win the game."

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