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Q&A: D.J. Durkin

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since his unit was shredded for over 500 yards in a 36-17 loss to Missouri, the assembled media met with Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin on Wednesday afternoon.

Florida’s first-year coordinator rehashed the loss, dished on Cody Riggs’ ejection, the importance of winning first down, confusing Aaron Murray and more.  

The major takeaways from Durkin’s press conference…

* Missouri punched Florida in the mouth and exposed some its defensive deficiencies, but Durkin’s unit is a prideful group (that practices hard) and won’t just lay down moving forward.

“I think there were obviously things we could have done much better in that game. They hit us on some plays. They are a talented team and they've got some guys outside that can do that. I think we just need to handle it, if that happens to us, to bounce back quicker. We're going to get hit on a play here or there, especially if you're playing receivers like they've got. Credit to them, a lot of 50-50 balls they went up and made the play. We've just got to line back up and go play. And I think at some point we didn't react the way we needed to on defense. That's something that hasn't happened with our group, and obviously we hope it doesn't happen again. … I just think it was something our guys are not used to. Quite frankly, we don't want to be used to it, so I think, we got some young guys and guys that maybe haven't been there before, haven't seen that experience before, I don't know. But it was obviously something we've addressed and talked about. I think our guys are resilient. They work hard, and they're confident in what we're doing. I think you'll see it. "

* The Gators rank second nationally in third down defense (27.38 percent conversion rate), but during their recent two-game losing they are giving up way to many yards on first and second down for the stat to matter -- especially against the run.

“Part of it is winning on first down. We talk a lot about winning on third down, which is obviously is critical, that’s how you get off the field. To better your chances on third down, you’ve got to win on first down. So, stopping the run becomes a big thing for us. Obviously, this week, these guys run the ball well. With [UGA tailback Todd] Gurley being back, he’s a dangerous back. He presents an issue that way. We have to do a good job of it.”

* With depth issues up front, freshmen defensive linemen Jay-nard Bostwick and Joey Ivie want to play -- and have been recently praised by coach Will Muschamp -- but is it too late to burn a redshirt(s)?

“I think all our guys want to play. They come here with the intent of playing, we recruit those types of guys that want to play as freshmen. So obviously for various reasons, some guys do, some don't. It's never all positive or negative. It just it what it is. So [Bostwick] is continuing to prepare in practice and he's getting better and better. And I think his time will come."

* True freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis -- a special teams ace and captain against Missouri -- has emerged as a potential rotational player in an underwhelming linebacker corps. 

“Jarrad’s done a great job with the snaps he’s had on special teams. He hasn’t had a ton on defense leading up to that point, but on specials teams he’s been an elite performer for us playing in all phases. He’s got a great career, a bright future ahead of him. He’s learning the defense better and better and doing better in practice. He’ll continue to play more on defense.”

* Gators safety Cody Riggs was ejected for targeting on the game’s first play in the loss to Missouri, and Durkin -- like Muschamp -- is no fan of the rule (or severe penalty). 

“It’s one of those things where I understand where everyone’s coming from in the movement of safety. That’s a smart decision by everyone involved. I want safety of our players to be first and foremost. In terms of that, the officials when it’s a close call they’re going to call it. That’s what they’re told to do and if I was one of them I’d call it close too, you can’t let one of those slide. Looking back on it and we have more time to look back on it and see it in slow-mo I don’t think Cody lowered his head and targeted, he did end up hitting helmet-to-helmet but he led with his hands. So it was a close call it could have went either way.  … You go into every game being prepared for whether it’s by injury or -- obviously you usually don’t do it by a guy being ejected but you plan on contingencies in case something happens. We said it before the year even started that ‘it’s going to be hard for safeties to make it through the season without things happening’ and we’ve seen that first hand as well as a lot of other teams have and those are the guys that get in those positions the most and it’s hard. Football’s a fast game and things happen fast even if a guy’s not intending to do that and Cody wasn’t but you just get yourself out of position and it happens fast. It’s two moving parts going together so ya it is something we’re prepared for and talk about.”

* Despite Florida forcing Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray into multiple poor decisions (7 total INTS vs. UF) over the past three seasons, Durkin believes the senior signal caller is really, really good (and smart).

“He's a very talented passer. That's pretty clear to anyone. He can also beat you running the ball, too. He runs better than people give him credit for. He makes a lot of plays in terms of converting on third down, whether it's designed or not. He's got great command of that offense. He's been playing there for four years with the same staff, same everything. So, I think he knows that offense probably as well as the coaching staff does and it shows when you watch it on tape. He's very comfortable in what they're doing, and they check him out on a lot of things and I think put a lot on him in terms of protections and checking the play, and he handles it well. He presents a lot of issues that way, and he's a guy we have faced many times. We know what his ability is."

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