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No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

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No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Billy Donovan has coached plenty of good defensive teams in his 17 seasons at Florida.

None of them quite like this.

The fourth-ranked Gators have been ridiculously stingy this season, especially in Southeastern Conference play.

Florida (17-2, 7-0 SEC) ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up a paltry 50.4 points a game. The Gators have held 15 teams under 60 points, 11 under 50 and three under 40.

The latest defensive masterpiece came Wednesday night against South Carolina. In winning its ninth consecutive game, Florida allowed the program's fewest points (36) in conference play during the shot-clock era.

For an encore, the league's top scoring team, Mississippi visits Gainesville on Saturday to test Florida's defense.

The 16th-ranked Rebels (17-3, 6-1) are averaging 80 points a game and should provide a tough test for Florida's stout D.

No SEC team has really challenged the Gators so far. Florida has won seven games by an average of 28.3 points, looking like the class of the field in a watered-down league.

``We're just consistent,'' forward Will Yeguete said. ``We have a couple of breakdowns a game, but we stay consistent. We keep guarding teams every single time, possession after possession. ... It's good to say that you're a really good defensive team.''

Few Donovan-coached teams even compare.

The back-to-back national champions - the ones led by Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah - used to be considered Donovan's best defensive group. And the 1999-2000 team, which advanced to the NCAA final, had top-notch defenders in guard Justin Hamilton and forward Brent Wright.

But none of those teams had as much defensive depth as this year's unit.

Between guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton, swingman Casey Prather, Yeguete and center Pat Young, the Gators have five players who take as much pride in stops and steals as dunks and jumpers.

``When you're a kid growing up playing the game of basketball, or if you're a kid growing up playing the game of football, I can't imagine that many guys that want to go to the park today and play and say, `I'm not going to take my ball, but I'm going to do defensive slides for two hours. I'm going to work on running back in transition. I'm going to grab some people in the school yard to run me over and take charges,''' Donovan said. ``Those things that you're talking about doing are not things that are enjoyable.

``But I often find that the things that make teams successful are the players that have the desire to do the things that are uncomfortable.''

Making opponents uncomfortable starts with Wilbekin and Boynton, both aggressive, on-ball defenders who have the quickness and stamina to run the press, the length to affect perimeter shots and the kind of experience that makes it easy to get them on the same page.

Wilbekin kept Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-low 11 points), Texas A&M's Elston Turner (4 points on 1-of-10 shooting) and Missouri's Phil Pressey (2 points, 10 turnovers) in check last month. And Boynton was equally effective the last two games against Mississippi State's Jalen Steele (scoreless) and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington (7 points on 2-of-9 shooting).

Maybe the most overlooked part of what Wilbekin and Boynton have done is how they have made everyone around them want to play better defense. Young, forward Erik Murphy and guard Mike Rosario are playing the best defense of their careers.

``It's contagious,'' Rosario said. ``We're all feeding off those guys and what they're doing in the press and on the defensive end.''

The Gators are motivated to keep it going, too.

They ended NCAA tournament runs the last two years by collapsing on the defensive end.

Florida was up 11 with about 8 minutes to play against Louisville last year, but managed just three points the rest of the way and lost 72-68. The 2010-11 season ended in similar fashion. The Gators led Butler by 11 points midway through the second half before faltering down the stretch and losing in overtime.

``This team has been to two Elite Eights and we've seen how a lack of defense will let a team back in a game,'' Boynton said. ``It's definitely a mental thing with us: we've been there before and we're not to let it happen again.''

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Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

Peter King awards two Ravens with weekly honors for defensive performance vs. Titans

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 6 dominate performance over the Tennessee Titans is gaining national attention. 

A historic game that displayed the offense and defense firing on all cylinders, it's hard to pinpoint who had the biggest impact. 

So in his latest edition of Football Morning in America, NBC Sports' Peter King awarded not one, but two Ravens with weekly honors.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Za'Darius Smith

Against the Titans, Smith led the Ravens defense with three sacks and five tackles in their historic 11-sack game. On of three Defensive Players of the Week, King explained why Smith's performance stood out.

In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.

Smith, who's entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has shown over six games he deserves to get paid in the offseason. So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and one forced fumble. 

COACH OF THE WEEK: Don "Wink" Martindale

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale has seamlessly made the transition from linebackers coach to leading the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (12.8). But what impressed King the most from the 21-0 shutout was how Martindale's squad got to Mariota from every direction. 

When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.

This Ravens defense, who has always been known for its dominance, is ranked first in points allowed (12.8), first in yards allowed (270.8), second in passing yards allowed (188.0) and third in rushing yards allowed (82.8) heading into Week 7. In addition, they have yet to surrender a second half touchdown all season. Trusting of the talent this roster holds, the respect "Wink" has for his players is equally reciprocated. 

"It was really emotional when they told us we had 11 sacks," linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said postgame. "We just went out there and we were like, ‘We have to get Coach Wink . We have to put the Gatorade on him.’ So, we tried to turn him around so he couldn’t see it coming, and we had to get him real good."

Martindale will now face the No. 1 scoring offense in the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. 

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Week 7 NFC East Update: As Giants derail rest of division rebounds

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Week 7 NFC East Update: As Giants derail rest of division rebounds

In Week 5, every NFC East team suffered an embarrassing defeat. In Week 6, every NFC East team rebounded, except for the New York Giants.

The Redskins rebounded from their ugly Week 5 loss in New Orleans with a home win over a strong Carolina team. Dallas logged the division's best win, stomping Jacksonville 40-7, while the Eagles took no mercy on the Giants, beating them 34-13.

Now, three teams sit at the top with three wins, while the Giants lag quite far behind in the basement. Here's the update:

Washington Redskins (3-2)

Only by virtue of an early bye week do the Redskins rank slightly ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, thanks to a .600 winning percentage. This week will change that, as the Redskins play their first NFC East division game when they host the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Defensively, Washington should match up well with Dallas, a run-first team that is challenged in the vertical pass game. But the Redskins have plenty to deal with internally, including major injuries at WR as well as a four-game losing streak to their rival. The Redskins haven't beaten the Cowboys at home since 2012. 

Up next: Oct. 21st vs Dallas (4:25 p.m.)

Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

Coming off their most impressive win of the season, Dallas will march into Washington on Sunday full of confidence and defensive swagger. The Cowboys defense held the Jaguars to only 204 total yards last Sunday and posted three sacks with two turnovers. The strength of the Dallas defense comes up front, with a menacing defensive line that confuses their offensive counterparts with significant movement and stunts at the snap of the ball. Now, all of that said, the Cowboys posted their standout defensive numbers against Blake Bortles and a bad Jaguars offense that was playing without injured running back Leonard Fournette. The Cowboys defense is good, but maybe not quite as good as they looked against Jacksonville. It's also a good time to point out that on the 2018 season, Dallas is 3-0 at home, and 0-3 on the road.

Up next: Oct. 21st @ Washington (4:25 p.m.)

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

Don't look now but the defending Super Bowl champs might be getting their act together. The Eagles scored more than 30 points for the first time this year in a demolition of the Giants last Thursday night, and snapped a two-game losing streak. Carson Wentz threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, his best performance since coming back from knee surgery. Defensively, the Eagles sacked Eli Manning four times, but rookie sensation RB Saquon Barkley was able to gash Philly on the ground. The Panthers will present a very strong run game this Sunday and if Philly is all the way back, they need their stout run defense from 2017 to reappear. 

Up next: Oct. 21st vs Carolina

New York Giants (1-5)

Woof. Not much to celebrate in the Big Apple. It's become very obvious that Eli Manning is no longer a starting caliber QB, but the Giants have no other real options. And for all the complaints about Eli and the Giants offensive line, the defense hasn't been very good either. New York has a -45 point differential on the year. The Giants need to rebuild their offense around Saquon Barkley, who has looked outstanding, and hope Eli can hit Odell Beckham on play action. Barkley must get more carries for the Giants; that's the only way to salvage an already broken season.

Up next: Oct. 22nd @ Atlanta (8:15 p.m.)

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