Kan Li / Scout

Will Grier leads the Florida Gators despite illness

Every week has meant improvement for Will Grier. This time it came while battling the flu.

Preparation was difficult with the illness but Grier fought his way through practices, and the Florida coaching staff was able to get film sent to the iPads of Grier and 20 other Florida players that were impacted this week.

There was never a thought in Grier’s mind that he wouldn’t be on the field, and he showed exactly why the Gators needed him, going 24-29 through the air for 271 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Grier became the first Florida quarterback to toss four touchdowns in the first half of a game since Chris Leak did it in 2005.

“I think in all aspects, we get better every week,” Grier said. “I see it in practice as a team, just coming together more and getting better. We really do get better every week and like I said, preparation is the key to that. We prepare throughout the week, and I think we’re learning how to prepare better. That’s showing in the games.”

The games have gotten better for Grier every week.

After failing an opportunity to secure the starting job in the second half of his first career start against East Carolina, Grier responded by leading Florida to a road win at Kentucky. He wasn’t perfect in Lexington, but he made big throws when the Gators needed them to escape with a win. Against Tennessee, he was putrid for three quarters before turning it on and leading back-to-back touchdown drives to beat the Volunteers for the 11th straight time.

But the improvement from Tennessee to Ole Miss?

No one could’ve seen this coming. His shaky start against Tennessee was put to rest by coming out of the gates on fire Saturday. Grier dissected the Ole Miss offense in the first half like a surgeon, one throw after the next right on the money. His first touchdown pass was placed perfectly over the shoulder of Demarcus Robinson. He sold the play action fake on the next touchdown to Jake McGee, and he threaded the needle to Brandon Powell for a 77-yard catch and run later in the half.

“He did a good job,” McElwain said. “He played the position. Let’s give credit to the guys around him. That was some really good effort and guys were in place to make plays. That’s a good thing. We’ll just keep working at it.

Most encouraging for McElwain was the drive before halftime. Florida got the ball back at its own nine-yard line with 4:50 left in the first half. The Gators seemed fine with running the ball early in the drive and milking the clock, keeping Ole Miss from scoring before the half. Four of the drive’s first six plays were runs, and the two pass plays were both to targets within four yards of the line of scrimmage.

But it’s the 35-yard line that the Gators target. If they can pass it with reasonable time left, they’ll hit the accelerator and try to get points. When Kelvin Taylor went for 13 yards on a third-and-two situation, McElwain starting to encourage the offense to hurry up.

Grier took what the Ole Miss defense was allowing, throwing quick routes two to the sideline for yardage, and he ended it with a 15-yard strike to Antonio Callaway, streaking across the field and into the end zone near the sideline. Grier went 8-8 for 68 yards and the touchdown on that drive. It was another sign to McElwain that his young quarterback was learning after the team worked that exact situation in practice. 

“The thing I really liked was the execution,” McElwain said. “The kids knew it, once we got across the 35 we went two-minute.”

The Florida offense now looks like it has a quarterback. It looked like it during the fourth quarter against Tennessee, but on Saturday, it happened for four quarters.

“I think as an offense, we’re starting to click more,” McElwain said. “It’s starting to come together for us. We’re doing a better job of preparing and the guys around me, we’re all kind of elevating as a team and really doing a good job.”

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