Five on the Spot: It all falls on Brown

by Rafael De Los Santos
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Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Here are five Florida Gators football players who are in the spotlight, and on the spot, to perform this week against No. 5 FSU.

Max Brown

The biggest stage of Max Brown’s career is set: FSU’s shot at the College Football Playoff and the Gators’ hopes of a bowl bid hinge on the performance of two backup quarterbacks in one of the biggest rivalries in the country.

Following Graham Mertz’ collarbone injury against No. 9 Missouri, Brown showed his athletic ability as a rollout passer that had seen him originally committed to Central Michigan under former Florida head coach Jim McElwain.

Although Brown’s plays might be lost in that Missouri box score that meant Florida’s fourth straight loss, the schematic impact is significant.

The Seminoles will move from one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in Jordan Travis to one who is more of a traditional pocket passer, while Florida must shift from a traditional pocket passer to one who is a better runner.

In relief of Mertz on Saturday against Missouri, Brown finished the game 4-of-5 passing for 56 yards while adding 42 yards on the ground to lead UF to 10 straight points. At the very least, Brown’s 27-yard rush on a crucial Florida 3rd down along another 27-yard connection to Kahleil Jackson gives the orange and blue faithful hope. At most, the backup dual-threat QB can be the decisive factor come Saturday in what would be a gigantic win for Florida.

Kamryn Waites

Key to Brown’s success on Saturday: 6-foot-8, 365-pound redshirt sophomore Kamryn Waites. Following an Achilles injury in the spring, Waites has seen action in each of the last six games against SEC opponents after making his season debut off the bench in Week 5 at Kentucky.

Waites featured in the Missouri loss, following Austin Barber’s absence after an upper-body injury suffered against LSU in Week 11. With Barber likely out for the season finale, Waites can be expected to fill in at right tackle once again as Damieon George fills in for Barber at left tackle.

The Louisiana transfer will be crucial in what could be the most explosive UF offense the Swamp has seen all season. Max Brown has already shown to be a threat in the option game with a willingness to add much-needed verticality to Billy Napier’s offense.

Whether Florida folds to a reliable run game or lets Brown show the world what he’s made of under the primetime lights, Kamryn Waites will be crucial to a Florida pass protection that has given up six sacks in its last two games.

Ricky Pearsall

Ricky Pearsall had a message for Brown during Monday’s press conference: “1 is always open.”

He’s not wrong.

The fifth-year senior from Arizona State, has been the team’s most dependable player in his second season with the slumping Gators. Heading into week 12, he has 64 catches for 948 yards good for four passing touchdowns and two rushing scores.

As things stand, Pearsall sits 52 yards shy of becoming Florida’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002, a head-scratching drought for a program that’s won two national championships since then while developing wideouts like Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Demarcus Robinson, Van Jefferson, and Kadarius Toney.

As if hosting Florida State for his last collegiate game ever isn’t a large enough chip on his shoulder, on Tuesday, Pearsall was left out of the Biletnikoff Award semifinalist shortlist for the season’s outstanding college football receiver.

Pearsall would more than take a repeat of his performance in last year’s Florida-Florida State rivalry where he reeled in five passes for 148 yards and two scores.

Teradja Mitchell

Despite the three consecutive losses since Shemar James’ season-ending injury, the absence of the Gators’ leading tackler would’ve spelled a much larger disaster if it wasn’t for Teradja Mitchell.

In a defensive corps where the defensive back second stringers have largely disappointed, Florida’s front seven backups have shined with Mitchell being the latest example.

In a game headlined by the SEC’s leading rusher in Cody Schrader, Mitchell posted a team-leading seven tackles. Now, the reality of the situation is that Schrader did what Schrader does in a 148 rushing-yard game for the Tigers.

The Seminoles head into the Swamp commandeered by a backup quarterback in what should be the rowdiest game at Ben Hill Griffin this season, and while FSU’s Trey Benson has not posted as prolific a year as Schrader, Florida can expect Benson’s number to be for stability.

According to Michell, the Gators must limit Florida State’s explosiveness as the orange and blue head into the rivalry with just four other teams allowing fewer yards per play (6.67).

“We have to reiterate on tackling and pursuit to the ball. That’s going to be important, one of the keys to win in this game. We have to pursue to the ball. Have to be a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Even when we get a big play, we have to get the guy on the ground and live to see the next down,” Mitchell said during Monday’s press conference.

Jason Marshall Jr.

When it’s all said and done, the 2023 season will feel like a broken record for Jason Marshall Jr. The Junior corner out of Miami went from that fresh-faced sophomore who picked off the ‘Noles two years ago, to a potential first-rounder and back down to Earth caught on the wrong end of great receiver matchups week after week.

In Florida’s four-game skid, the opposing leading receiver has a combined stat line of 24 receptions for 546 yards and three touchdowns, and that’s excluding Malik Nabers’ 132-yard game against the Gators.

Keon Coleman and a nightmare matchup in 6-foot-7’ Johnny Wilson will bring the kind of dual-threat that the Gators struggled with against LSU. Marshall has been shaky this season, and across the field so too has Jalen Kimber. Florida will need both of its corners to stop a Seminole aerial attack that Tate Rodemaker will look to find the keys to in the Swamp. There’s no understating it, all could arguably be forgiven if Marshall has a huge game come Saturday.

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