Dooley’s Dozen: Florida football’s 12 best defenses of all time

This may seem difficult for some Gator newbies to grasp because of the carnage they have had to witness over the last few years, but Florida used to be really good at defense.

I know that there are no defensive statues out in front of the stadium, but defenders make up a third of the Ring of Honor, so they have that going for them… which is nice.

Of course, some older Gators will tell you there was a time when Florida only played defense.

But I digress.

This Dooley’s Dozen brings you the 12 best defenses at Florida and I am limiting it to the modern era. As you may know, that begins when I saw my first game in 1962.

I have a lot of respect for that 1928 team that allowed only 44 points all season, but this list includes only teams that played with facemasks.

1998 (10-2 record)

Andy Lyons /Allsport

The linebackers on this team were [autotag]Jevon Kearse[/autotag], [autotag]Mike Peterson[/autotag] and [autotag]Johnny Rutledge[/autotag] with [autotag]Reggie McGrew[/autotag] in the middle and [autotag]Teako Brown[/autotag] on the back end. How did anybody score?

Tennessee and FSU scored enough to (barely) beat this team and then played for the national title. The Vols had seven first downs against UF, who gave up a combined 30 points total in consecutive games against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.

1983 (9-2-1 record)

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

[autotag]Wilber Marshall[/autotag] was the leader of this defense, but he had plenty of help. Florida only allowed nine touchdowns all year. NINE! The Gators opened the season by beating Miami 28-3 and closed it in the Gator Bowl allowing No. 10 Iowa only six points.

2019 (11-2 record)

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Wait a minute. How can a [autotag]Todd Grantham[/autotag] defense be on this list? This one was pretty good. The others, not so much. Florida had three shutouts and a school record for sacks with 49 thanks to a transfer that worked in [autotag]Jon Greenard[/autotag]. These guys also had 16 interceptions.

2006 (13-1 record)

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

[autotag]Reggie Nelson[/autotag] erased a lot of things, including deep passes on the first play of the game (I’m looking at you Tennessee). Of course, this is the defense that allowed 83 yards in the national title game against Ohio State and only 255.4 per game for the season. At least one of them didn’t even need a helmet to record a sack.

1984 (9-1-1 record)

AP Photo

After [autotag]Charley Pell[/autotag] was fired three games into the season, these guys could have been crestfallen. Instead, they won the SEC by allowing only 12.0 points per game the rest of the way.

With Alonzo Johnson and Tim Newton leading the way, the Gators allowed three points total to No. 11 Auburn and No. 8 Georgia. Have fun storming the field, boys.

2001 (10-2 record)

Andy Lyons/Allsport

This team is better known for its offense and the Heisman that was stolen from [autotag]Rex Grossman[/autotag]. But the defense was salty. There was the one bad game against Tennessee, but Florida only allowed 14.1 points a game and had four first-team defenders on the All-SEC team including [autotag]Andra Davis[/autotag], [autotag]Alex Brown[/autotag] and [autotag]Lito Sheppard[/autotag] — all Gator royalty.

1975 (9-3 record)

AP Photo/Bill Hudson

These Gators lost to N.C. State 8-7 and Georgia 10-7. We won’t talk about the Gator Bowl game where Florida didn’t want to be there and still only gave up 13 points. The defense gave up only 12 touchdowns all season led by a guy I think should be on the Ring of Honor in linebacker Sammy Green. Florida had 25 fumble recoveries that year.

1996 (12-1 record)

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The first national champions were known for Danny and Ike and Reidel, but this was one of those times when the defense was as good as the offense. Like the time they allowed only 67 yards to Kentucky and gave up a combined 30 points (while scoring 154) to LSU, Auburn and Georgia in consecutive games.

Shout out to two of my faves – [autotag]James Bates[/autotag] and [autotag]Lawrence Wright[/autotag].

2008 (13-1)

Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Another national title team that was known for its Heisman candidate (he did receive the most first-place votes), but was fueled by defense. [autotag]Major Wright[/autotag] and [autotag]Ahmad Black[/autotag] are in the argument for the best safety duo and [autotag]Brandon Spikes[/autotag] really came into his own.

The freshmen who were not good the previous year grew up and what they all did to Oklahoma was pretty incredible.

1964 (7-3 record)

Courtesy: University of Florida SID

In [autotag]Steve Spurrier[/autotag]’s first season, he shared the quarterback duties. But he definitely had a defense that would keep Florida in games. The Gators allowed only 9.8 points per game and only 194.4 yards per game. Their star was safety Bruce Bennett, an All-American.

2012 (11-2 record)

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

[autotag]Will Muschamp[/autotag] had one good team in his four years and it even had a shot at playing for the national title. Strong up the middle? How about [autotag]Sharrif Floyd[/autotag] at tackle, [autotag]Jon Bostic[/autotag] at middle linebacker and [autotag]Matt Elam[/autotag] at safety? This defense allowed only seven passing TDs all season.

1991 (10-2)

Courtesy of UAA Communications

If you want to put this defense higher, I can’t blame you. It was loaded and won the first official SEC title with dudes like [autotag]Brad Culpepper[/autotag], [autotag]Tony McCoy[/autotag], [autotag]Will White[/autotag] and Tim Paulk. Included on the resume were shutouts of Alabama and LSU.

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