The Capital One Bowl summed up the entire Gator season in one game. The offense went through Harvin and Tebow with a couple contributions from Caldwell, the defensive line got no pressure on the Quarterback, and the secondary was eaten alive. While the offense needs to add one more play maker, they were still great and will be next year. The defense on the other hand needs some major fine tuning.
The Gators will definitely lose one starter, Tony Joiner, to the draft and most likely will lose Derrick Harvey as well. The rest of the 9 starters will return and try to build on the dismal 2007 season. The defense was a very young bunch this season and you would expect them to get better, but many of them did not show signs of improvement through out the season.
Middle Linebacker Brandon Spikes was heralded as the next great middle linebacker at Florida, but he had a disappointing season and was run over in the bowl game. Joe Haden emerged as a great corner, but other than that the secondary will be a huge question once again. Wandy Pierre-Lois was not able to make the plays that the gators need from their second corner. Jacques Rickerson and Marques Anderson did not have good years and were target all day in the Bowl game for big gains. Meanwhile, Major Wright has shown the ability to knock people out with his huge hits, but looks to be lacking in the coverage ability that the Gators will need back there with the corners lacking.
The front four have done a good job of stopping the run, but were not able to get to get the pressure and sacks needed to take the pressure off of the secondary. The Gators may take a huge hit with the loss of Derrick Harvey, the Gators best defensive lineman. If they can not get the pressure up front without having to blitz, it will be a long season again on defense.
From the recruiting trail thus far it is obvious the coaches know what the problem is with the team. Of the 15 verbal commitments thus far, 9 are on defense. The Gators were able to get the number 1 athlete in the country, Will Hill, to commit to Florida and he wants to play safety and soon. The Gators also got 3 other secondary players all in the top 16 of defensive backs and safeties. Also, the Gators also recruited Ahmad Black last season to play corner and he could step up.
If recruits live up to the hype the Gator front four could be amazing. Carlos Dunlap, John Brown, and Justin Trattou are all type defensive line recruits that can clog up the middle and rush the passer. The Gators will need brown to get eligible so he can play, and also for the others to step up. The pass rush will need to help take pressure off of the secondary.
The linebackers were talked about all season as the strength of the defense, but really they were a bit disappointing. In big games Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe seemed to disappear or get run over. Jeremy Finch, the nations best safety recruit last season, moved to linebacker in the fall, but was injured in the second game. If he can come back healthy that would be a huge boost to the linebackers and may create one of the top linbacking cores in the SEC. The team will need these guys to step up in run defense and coverage with youth in front and behind them.
The Gator defense once again let it's offense down, this time in the bowl game. The defense is young and can go either way. If this defense gets better, there may not be a team that can stop Florida next season. If they get worse or stay the same the Gators will be looking at another failed season and Capital One Bowl game.