As the heart and soul of the defense, the presence of senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley was rather important to the success of the Florida Gators football team. So important, that a piece of Easley still travels with the team for every game: his infamous Chucky doll.
Since he tore the ACL in his right knee in practice September 24, ending his season, the doll has been making the trips to Florida’s away games with sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. Perhaps the thought was the doll would help the defense channel its inner-Easley, and while Fowler recorded two sacks at Kentucky, in his first game with Chucky, in the three games since, Florida’s defense has struggled mightily.
Redshirt junior Leon Orr and junior Darious Cummings have been filling-in for the injured star, and while they are solid players, they are no Easley, and it has shown. In four games since Easley went down, Florida is allowing 318.8 total yards per game, including 134.8 rushing yards per game. Prior to Easley’s injury, the Gators were allowing just 212 total yards per game and just 55 yards per game on the ground.
In the past two games, against LSU and Missouri respectively, Florida has been unable to stop the run. LSU’s Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards versus the Gators, which was the most by a player against Florida’s defense all year. But Hill’s mark did not last long, as the very next game Missouri running back Henry Josey rushed for 136 yards. To pile on top of that, Florida’s streak of 13 consecutive Southeastern Conference games allowing 20 points or fewer came to an end against Missouri.
Despite what it may seem, it hasn’t all been bad for the Florida defense. The Gators still rank fourth in the country in total defense, allowing just 273.1 yards per game on the season. It could be argued that the recent struggles of the defense could be related to the struggles of the offense. With Florida unable to create much of anything offensively, especially in the past couple of games, it has put more of an onus on Florida’s defense to create turnovers and try an put points on the board.
The bye week has provided some relief for the Gators, as the defense should get nose tackle Damien Jacobs and linebacker Ronald Powell back after they missed the Missouri game with injuries. Their return should help, but without Easley, opposing running backs could continue to make “Child’s Play” of the Gator defense.