The crowd on their side, Gators defense looks to rattle highly touted Alabama QB

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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A pair of games have yet to inspire confidence that the Gators can topple No. 1-ranked Alabama, though the Crimson Tide undoubtedly deserve the credit for being perceived as 15-point favorites heading into Saturday’s battle at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Despite losing stars Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Mac Jones to the NFL, Alabama’s offense appears retooled, reloaded and — perhaps most importantly — poised under sophomore quarterback Bryce Young. 

The 6-foot signal-caller saw brief action in seven games last season as a true freshman, completing 13 of his 22 passing attempts for 156 yards and a touchdown, hardly impressive statistics on their own, yet it was a propitious sample size considering Young’s age. 

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He may still be an underclassmen, but Young has come out of the gate in auspicious fashion. The dual-threat quarterback out of Los Angeles has completed 46 of his 65 passing attempts for 571 yards and seven touchdowns through Alabama’s two games. And, unlike UF quarterback Emory Jones, he’s yet to turn the ball over, meaning Young isn’t facing questions regarding his long-term viability under center. 

As the Crimson Tide look to descend on Gainesville, Young’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed to the opposition tasked with cooling him down. 

“What I've seen from Bryce Young, he's a pretty elusive quarterback, and from the film that I've studied so far, you know, I see how relaxed he is in the pocket, and he has good pocket presence and awareness,” UF redshirt senior defensive lineman Zachary Carter said, “so I feel like this week, we have to do a good job with our rush lanes, and just be keeping in mind, trying to cage him in the pocket, because he's a pretty elusive guy."

It may be atypical for a 19-year-old quarterback such as Young to be this dominant this early, but Young is no ordinary collegiate athlete. The Crimson Tide are accustomed to luring the nation’s top high school prospects, and Young was no exception; as a matter of fact, based on his recruiting profile, the case could be made that Young arrived in Tuscaloosa with hype that was unusual even by Alabama’s recent standards. Following a prolific career at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) which saw him narrowly miss out on three-consecutive national championships, Young concluded his high school career as the No. 20-ranked prospect in the history of 247Sports’ composite ranking system, falling just behind Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee. 

It may still be the early stages of Young’s career, but he’s already justifying that lofty forecast.

For the Gators to avoid defeat at home, they’ll have to find a way to halt a quarterback who’s firing on all cylinders, said the man tasked with developing the plan to slow Young, UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

“He's a very talented guy, he can make all the throws, he has the ability to throw it to field one, you know from the far hash. Does a really good job of keeping his eyes down the field on the routes as they continue to, you know, develop, and he doesn't really look at the rush, that really doesn't affect him that way,” Grantham said. “And he's able to avoid — and he doesn't necessarily maybe look to scramble to run, as opposed to scramble to extend the play to get the ball down the field.”

Grantham has a bevy of experience when it comes to game-planning for opposing quarterbacks, and he said Young has put plays on film that indicate he’s ahead of the typical development trajectory for a player his age.

“He's good in protections, understanding where the looks are coming from and things like that. So for a young guy, he's really developed and probably ahead of his age, per se, and he's really talented,” Grantham said. “So we know we're going to have to play well, and he's got talented guys outside that can make plays when he gets them involved."

That last part is nothing new for the Gators. More often than not, the Crimson Tide have a wealth of weapons when they take the field, and that was certainly the case when Florida fell to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game last year, with a touchdown separating the opponents in that Atlanta-based battle. 

Come Saturday, the Crimson Tide may have Bryce Young, but the Gators are planning on an element they didn’t have the last time out against Alabama – about 90,000 screaming fans, most of them on the UF side. 

The trip to Tampa to take on South Florida may technically have been a sell-out, but the stands were anything but filled come kick off. 

Likely needing all the advantages at their disposal, the Gators are counting on the crowd to show up, show out and rattle Young, the quarterback set to make his third start in front of the largest opposing crowd he’s faced to date. 

“I think anytime you can affect the quarterback, you're going to be successful, so obviously you've got to be able to, first of all, stop the run, to where you put it in his hands from that standpoint,” Grantham said. “Anytime you can affect the quarterback and get after him a little bit, and make him a little nerve-racked, that's got a chance to be in your favor. So yeah, I mean, that's obviously something we'll try to do.”

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