The Florida Gators have had so many great defenses over the years that it’s hard to remember which star defensive players played for which teams. Go ahead, Google the former players and exhaust yourself reading down the list.
From UF’s ball-hawking 2009 defense that featured the likes of NFL regulars Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins, Major Wright, Ahmad Black, Will Hill, Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap to the 2012 team that consisted of Dante Fowler Jr., Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Jonathan Bullard, it’s easy to see why the Orange and Blue has bruised and battered opposing quarterbacks and offenses.
In 2019, that’s been no different. The main driving force behind UF’s once-again-elite defense? Jonathan Greenard.
Where Did Jonathan Greenard Come From?
A graduate transfer from the University of Louisville, Greenard has been a revelation for the Gators all season. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end and outside linebacker was recruited by Todd Grantham at Louisville and followed him to Gainesville when UF head coach Dan Mullen hired Grantham to be his defensive coordinator.
After tearing a ligament in his wrist and missing the entire 2018 season, Greenard was left with a choice: Stay and play for the Cardinals, a program he was the team captain at, or follow Grantham and take his talents — he posted seven sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in his redshirt sophomore 2017 season — to a Southeastern Conference team known for developing great defensive players.
The results: a team-leading four sacks, 28 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, seven quarterback hurries, one forced fumble, three pass breakups and even an interception. Those across-the-board statistics seem odd for a defensive lineman, but that’s how destructive the man built like a wrecking ball has been.
The Hiram, Georgia, native is a main reason Florida’s defense ranks among the best in the country heading into a top-10 college football showdown with LSU. Here’s where the Gators stand defensively six games into the season after limiting the Auburn Tigers to 13 points at home:
- 12 interceptions (1st in NCAA, 1st in SEC)
- 26 sacks (T-3rd in NCAA, 1st in SEC)
- 9.5 points per game (5th in NCAA, 1st in SEC)
- 276 yards per game (11th in NCAA, 2nd in SEC)
What’s more is that Florida has allowed (wait for it) 16 points in four games in The Swamp. Never before has the “only Gators get out alive” chant been more true. OK, maybe it has. Don’t quote me on that.
With the ankle injury to top UF pass rusher Jabari Zuniga, Greenard’s play has made all the difference to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. That he’s gotten 26 sacks out of his squad is a testament to his coaching ability and his players’ effort.
“I think losing Jabari was a big impact and obviously he’s a big part of this team,” Florida defensive end Jeremiah Moon told 247 Sports. “It’s the next man up. Jon is a really big part of this defense, a really big part of this team. We love him. Everything he brings to the table is fantastic. He’s a great guy.”Advertisement
How Has Jonathan Greenard Found Success?
Jonathan Greenard’s coming out party came against Tennessee. He turned in a sack, two tackles for a loss, three passes defended, and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus said he had four QB pressures and two defensive stops. To Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, Greenard must’ve been like the annoying mosquito that constantly buzzes around you.
Even in Florida’s season opener against the Miami Hurricanes in the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando, Greenard played a huge role in keeping quarterback Jarren Williams on his toes the entire game. He put two tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks, but he made more of an impact than the stat sheet shows.
He doesn’t get the sack, but check how Greenard’s quick first step leads to a sack:
And this video of Greenard and safety Shawn Davis, who leads the team with three interceptions, swarming a Miami wide receiver is just pure poetry.
A message to all of the remaining teams on UF’s schedule: Whatever you do, don’t leave Greenard unblocked like Kentucky did here. It’s a surefire way to get your quarterback injured.
The SEC is typically filled with talented defensive linemen and linebackers. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Florida’s Jachai Polite, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams are just a handful of top NFL Draft picks to come out of the conference.
What makes Jon Greenard interesting is that statistically he’s been the best edge defender in the SEC despite being a graduate transfer and at one time a three-star prospect coming out of Hiram High School.
Florida undoubtedly boasts one of the premier defenses in the country, and that can be traced back to the impact grad transfer. Tough rivalry matchups against LSU and Georgia lie ahead, but if they can squeak out wins and take care of the rest of their games, they could be looking at a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.