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UF defense tackles its biggest problem

LSU commits four turnovers and is held to 92 yards rushing.

By DEBI JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Steve Spurrier called it the best performance of the season as a struggling defense was led by a sophomore making his first start of the season.

Linebacker Mike Nattielhad two interceptions and one tackle.

"Mike had a great game," defensive end Kennard Ellis said. "His interceptions really swung the momentum. They got the defense off the field, and then the offense was able to capitalize on them."

Nattiel, who has been battling sophomore Daryl Dixon for the top spot, may have secured the starting position -- one of the changes that may have changed the Gators' momentum from last week.

After the highly touted defense failed to live up to expectations in Florida's past three games, it made the impression on the Louisiana State offense that it was expected to make all season. It forced four turnovers, made a sack and hurried LSU quarterbacks several times.

And after allowing more than 500 yards to Kentucky and Mississippi State, it held LSU to 341.

"I think we're excited about coming out and making tackles," Nattiel said. "A lot of people said we couldn't tackle. So, we came out and we did it."

Defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said he did not see many missed tackles Saturday. UF allowed 92 yards on the ground.

"They felt good where they were at," Hoke said. "We said, "Let's keep it simple.' And overall, it helped them play better."

In addition, the defensive line put pressure on quarterbacks Rohan Davey and Josh Booty, contributing to four interceptions, Nattiel said.

Although Florida held a team that normally averages 30.2 points to a single digit score, it will need to carry that momentum into Saturday's game against Auburn, the Southeastern Conference's third-ranked offense.

"The defense came ready to play," Spurrier said. "We've had two good games -- this one and Middle Tennessee (State). Whatever we do, we've got to get them to play emotional like this. I watched our defensive line in practice and asked them why they didn't play like they practiced. Maybe they decided the ol' coach knew what he was talking about. We had guys turn it loose. We were flying around and just playing the game."

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