Statistically speaking, there will not be a more talented dual-threat quarterback Florida plays this year outside of Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound product is one of only four quarterbacks in SEC history to throw for more than 4,400 yards and rush for over 2,400 yards.
Fitzgerald has the capability of hitting the home run ball over the top and can run through you on his way for a first down. His legs are a huge part of his success on the gridiron.
Dan Mullen spoke Monday about his former quarterback and the skill set he brings on Saturday’s.
“He brings so many different things to the table. He’s a veteran guy, he’s hard to shake, he’s played a lot of football games. He’s got a huge arm. He can make all the different throws, can throw it underneath, go through progressions, stand in the pocket, make reads. He can throw it 70 yards in the air and he can do that from the pocket or on the run. It’s the. … then you’ve got the three things. Trying to defend his ability to throw the ball, his ability to run the ball, where he is at his best.”
Florida’s only loss of the season occurred while defending a multi-dimensional quarterback in Terry Wilson (Kentucky). Wilson extended plays with his legs and improvised several times in the pocket to find his receivers. The use of his legs propelled Kentucky to a victory in The Swamp in a game the Cats’ tallied over 300 yards rushing.
Senior defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson discussed the challenges of facing a dual-threat signal caller.
“Uh, it poses a pretty decent challenge, but I’m sure coach Grantham and everybody upstairs will have a game plan for him and all we have to do is go out and execute. Like I said, if we bring our ‘A’ game we should get the job done.”
There’s a bit of familiarity with some of the Florida coaches, as they previously came from Mississippi State. Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had the opportunity of defending against Fitzgerald every day during practice a season ago, however, no matter the knowledge of his former players, his guys must execute Saturday night inside a hostile environment.
“I’m not playing, the guys got to play. I think the biggest thing is, you know, it’s all about playing with your hands up front, striking guys, trying to be physical, setting the edge. Then you got to tackle the runners. Then you got to cover them, so I think it’s more down to playing football and understanding what got us to where we are right now and continue to do those things in our preparation.”
Florida’s defense played their best ball to date this season a week ago in Tennessee, forcing six Volunteer turnovers. The defensive pressure upfront rattled the Vols all night, assisting in the Gators 26-point blowout.
One player in particular, West Virginia transfer, Adam Shuler II provided a must needed spark. He registered nine total tackles, including one for a loss and delivered several shots on the opposing quarterback. Florida will need him again to make a presence upfront and deliver pressure on Fitzgerald.
Jefferson later talked about the development of Shuler since his arrival.
“Oh yeah, he’s filthy. He’s a dog. He’s bought in since the time he’s been here. You know, he’s such a big guy. He’s so fast and strong and his football IQ is amazing. He just loves the game. You know, you have some people who like the game and you have some people that loves the game. He’s one of those who loves the game.”
Florida’s preparing for a war Saturday night, as the juices will be flowing on the Mississippi State sideline and in the stands. It’s crucial the eleven hats on the field play disciplined, yet ferocious, if they’re wanting to make a statement to the college football world.