Kan Li / Scout

Will Grier makes plays when it counts for the Florida Gators

If Treon Harris wasn’t suspended on Saturday, Will Grier might not have been able to finish the game as Florida’s quarterback.

The redshirt freshman ended the third quarter 12-24 through the air for 142 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and plenty more inaccurate throws. It wasn’t pretty, as Grier missed multiple open receivers and continued to tuck the ball and run out of a clean pocket earlier than he should have instead of letting the play develop.

When the fourth quarter came around, something clicked with Grier. McElwain and even the redshirt freshman himself were both uncertain of what it was, but he went 11-18 for 143 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the final quarter.

“The whole team saw some things there,” McElwain said of Grier’s performance. “That was really good. There were a whole lot of guys that contributed. The development in that (quarterback) position, it’s having that confidence you can take drives down when you need to and stick them in the end zone. That really helps. I thought he actually looked pretty steady in the pocket on those (last) two drives.”

McElwain said the up-tempo offense could have helped Grier in that situation. Instead of dealing with the team huddling and getting lined up properly, they got their signals from the sideline, lined up and ran the play. It can take some pressure off the quarterback position, and for a redshirt freshman playing in just the fourth game of his college career, that could be what eased Grier’s mind and helped him play so well in the fourth quarter.

“To a certain degree, it did feel like it slowed down,” Grier said. “We never, as an offense, felt nervous or got out of our groove. We tried to be calm and execute. That’s something we’ve practiced and felt like we could do.”

On fourth downs Saturday, Grier was even better. He went 5-5 through the air on fourth downs for 123 yards, with 63 of those coming on the catch and long run by freshman Antonio Callaway.

The entire Florida offense took notice of his poise and accuracy under pressure.

“Will has shown great leadership, great poise,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “He’s still a young quarterback. I think he’ll be the first to tell you he might want some of the things he did back. He leads the guys and the way he stepped up in that pressure situation tonight, he showed no nerves and didn’t show that the stage was too big. He was comfortable. In the huddle, that’s comforting and shows guys are able to rally around him.

“The offense took a little while to get going, but there’s no wavering with the guys when Will’s in there. He looks awesome.”

There’s still a long way to go in Grier’s development. For the second week in a row, McElwain pointed to Grier feeling pressure off the weak side that wasn’t there and starting to scramble earlier than he should have. He missed open receiver and was too anxious on some of his throws.

The positive for McElwain is that those mistakes happened, Grier can learn from them on film and the Gators still won. The fourth quarter showed what the Florida offense can do.

“They were two drives that should’ve happened in the first quarter,” McElwain said. “It’s about getting the ball in the end zone.”

More than anything, Saturday was about building confidence for a young quarterback. It wasn’t pretty for Grier, and this season might not be. But with Florida’s back against the wall, the young quarterback produced and found a way for his team to win.

The challenges only get bigger as No. 3 Ole Miss comes to The Swamp next weekend.

“This is definitely something to build on,” Grier said. “We showed spurts. We’ve just got to finish drives, man. We moved the ball and made some bad decisions and made some errors executing. Overall, any time you get a win like that, it’s something to build off for us.”

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