Silver Lining: Believe it or not, the Florida Gators have found a quarterback … and a receiver

By Adam Silverstein
September 27, 2015

Don’t blame yourself, Florida fan. After five seasons of offensive mediocrity, you are conditioned to question whether what you saw Saturday night in The Swamp was a mirage.

Did the Gators’ offense actually rally for what, according to the school, was its second largest fourth quarter comeback in recorded history? Was that comeback really fueled by a quarterback – and a receiver – not a ground game that ate up clock and hoped the defense could hold the opposition off?

Yes and yes.

Consider for a moment what redshirt freshman – yes, redshirt freshman – quarterback Will Grier accomplished.

Over Florida’s final two series, Grier completed 11-of-17 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. He also went 3-for-3 on fourth downs (5-for-5 for the game), converting two as part of the Gators’ 17-play, 86-yard drive (10 yards, 16 yards) and a third for the game-winning touchdown on 4th and 14 from the UF 37-yard line.

Most quarterbacks would be lauded for that effort, anointed even. And while there should be no question that Grier is the quarterback Florida rolls with for the duration of this season, the immediate reaction to was to praise everyone but the signal caller – namely the receivers that hauled in his passes.

The Gators faithful is so disillusioned that they do not want to believe Grier may actually be what they’ve been waiting for all this time. And you can’t fault them for that.

Before stepping foot on the field this season, Grier’s last game action came two years ago at Davidson Day High School in North Carolina; that’s not Florida or California or Texas high school football, and Davidson Day’s league was far from the top one in its own state. Prior to the final four minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday, Grier had attempted just 82 passes as a collegian (completing 62.3 percent of them) with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

What was impressive about Grier on Saturday was not just the fact that he led the Gators on a pair of late game-changing drives. He was poised and mature enough to handle the pressure. He showed guts, just as he did against Kentucky one week prior. Grier got his ass kicked behind a porous offensive line that failed to offer him the protection he – like any human quarterback – needs. He took hits, stood up, brushed himself off and demanded more. Grier listened to his coach and checked down less often with his feet, though that led to fewer gains, more incompletions and harder hits.

“Obviously everybody’s taking hits, everybody’s kind of beat up. You just got to work through it, man. If you ain’t broken, then you got to keep going,” Grier said. “That’s just part of this game. It’s a violent game. It’s a game that you got to take adversity, take the beating and keep going. I’m alright. I walked in here .I’m talking to you right now.”

But it is not only the tough exterior that makes Grier the right choice for Florida; while he still made his share of mistakes in the contest, he once again completed throws that have simply not been typical of recent Florida signal caller, perhaps since as far back as Chris Leak. Grier can fit the ball into tight windows and throw passes that only his teammates can haul in. He’s done it all season long and flashed that ability again on Saturday.

“Football’s a game where you got to battle. You deal with a adversity and you got to respond,” Grier said after the game. “My team, my teammates did a really great job staying in it. They fought to the end and that’s what you got to do to win games like that.”

Head coach Jim McElwain recognized Grier’s gumption. “He was sore. You’re playing in the SEC. You’re going to get score. I loved his courage. He played with some bruises. In this league, you’re playing that position, you’re going to get some bumps and bruises,” he said.

Remember, this was a redshirt freshman in the fourth game (third start, second real start) of his career. It’s natural to see a young quarterback misplace a defender (Grier’s first half interception) or get flustered and not finish his reads (multiple times in the game). What’s not ordinary is to have one who fights through that adversity and still leads his team to a gritty, seemingly-impossible victory.

McElwain may not believe that Grier alone is the best option to lead the Gators to their maximum number of wins in 2015, but he would be foolish not to take the opportunity to use what is very much a rebuilding year to mold Florida’s quarterback of the future.

Sophomore Treon Harris has proven to be unreliable and untrustworthy and, well, there is no one else besides him to legitimately push Grier. Instead of worrying about Grier being perfect, McElwain needs to throw his support behind the youngster and build him up, giving him every opportunity to develop into the player that the Gators have been crying out for since Tebow’s departure.

“I know that I am a freshman, but I can’t make freshman mistakes at this level playing in this league,” Grier admitted. “I hold myself to the standard of just being the Florida Gator quarterback, and I’m just going to do the best I can.”

It would be negligent to provide Grier with this praise and ignore the contributions of true freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who similarly stepped into a vacant role Florida has been looking to fill for years – playmaker.

Callaway has been everything junior WRs Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood were supposed to be. Sure, he’s athletic and has good hands and runs crisp routes; Callaway is also smart, dedicated and tough – he is not afraid to go up and get the ball and fight for extra yardage. And he was not shaken when Grier called his number on a 4th and 14 with the game on the line late in Saturday’s contest.

“The young kid, my little brother, Callaway just made a hell of a play, man. Just another guy who has stepped up and is making a lot of plays. He turned that first down into a touchdown. Big players make big plays in big games like that,” Grier said.

That’s not to say Robinson and Fulwood have not contributed in their own ways. It’s simply to point out how Callaway is the complete receiver that Florida has desperately needed for years. He is the Gators’ leading receiver (nine catches, 172 yards) despite hauling in 11 fewer passes than Robinson (20, 153).

“We knew there was something special in this kid when we started recruiting him,” McElwain said of Callaway. “I think he’s proven that, and he still hasn’t really scratched the surface. He’s still learning how to play.”

To indicate Florida’s offense is fixed or even “turned around” would be foolhardy. But one would be remiss not to point out that the Gators currently have pieces that they have lacked for a long time.

Now it is up to the coaching staff, which has done a fine job to this point, taking the young talent they have and molding it into a foundation for the future of Florida football.

Beating the Vols is nice, and it’s a great win for a new Gators regime, but Florida has an opportunity to make Saturday’s thrilling victory just the tip of the iceberg.


  1. uf_84 says:

    Great article Adam and I could ‘t agree more. Grier finally earned the starting QB job in this game. Time to give him the majority of the reps in practice and let “pothead” Harris run the scout team. Callaway has impressed me all year and looks to be a really special player. Not bad at all for a “3 star” true freshman which is why I don’t care how many stars a guy has next to his name. It’s all about how hard you’re willing to work once you get on campus and he’s obviously worked a ton.

    I also have to give a shout out to Brandon Powell for the block he threw that gave Callaway a step on thee Vol defenders. From where I was sitting one of them had the angle on him until Powell came out of nowhere and and sprung him loose. It’s been a long time since I felt the Swamp rock like it did at that moment. Awesome play!!!

    • Ken (CA) says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Harris transfers and tries to get a new start somewhere after the season.

  2. Gator751 says:

    It would be foolish on Mcelwain’s part to not continue to start and play Grier. He has proven he has the toughness and ability to be really good. Grier looks much better than Harris ever has. Poor choices by Harris over the last two years also show lack of commitment to the team and dedication. I understand Mcelwain most likely not wanting Harris to transfer if he loses opportunity to be starter, but Grier needs the chance to grow. Florida might lose a few games this year because of it, but in the long run they will be better for it.

  3. Eric says:

    Loved this article! Bookmarked it as something I want to look back on. The turning point in what I hope to be a legendary career for both Calloway and Grier

  4. gatorforever says:

    Adam, ever think of providing a weekly grading of receivers, quarterback, linemen, etc? Your insight is spot on and think it could be a good writing piece

  5. Corey says:

    When you’re dealing with such small sample sizes, the statistics are just about meaningless. Callaway had more yards with less completions than Robinson? It’s entirely attributable to Powell’s block on two defenders that opened up that touchdown. “He” turned a first down into a touchdown, and by “he” we should mean Powell, not Callaway. Is Callaway better than Robinson? Well right now I FEEL that he is, but I don’t have much to go on but feelings and observations. Stats won’t back it up at this point.

    Now let’s take Grier’s stats, again they are irrelevant for the point you are trying to illustrate– that Grier is our best bet at QB and Mac should focus on nurturing him in the marquis role. And the stats you use, which were carefully selected out of the haystack because of the inconclusive sample size, no doubt, are just that– small, carefully selected and aimed at proving a feeling you have about a player.

    Let us use statistics when they are actually useful and valid. All that needs to be said about Grier is that he works hard, has talent, kept his head under fire, keeps improving, and appears to be more responsible than Harris. That’s enough, and that’s why we’ll see him named the starter. But if he’s not named that, I wouldn’t conclude Mac is steering us wrong, as your article seem to imply. It could only be the management and motivation tactics of an expert in the field.

    You can do better.

  6. 1974Gator says:

    Brandon Powell’s gutsy block on 3 defenders is an equal part of how that play succeeded with a touchdown. Downfield blocking has returned!

    • Ken (CA) says:

      Not to mention he converted 2 of the 5 4th downs on top of that. McGee, Goulsby, Powell, Calloway, and Grier seem to be our big playmakers.

      What happened to Scarlett and Cronkrite on Saturday? Other than busting one run, Taylor did little but they never saw the field.

  7. W says:

    Great column Adam. It’s really exciting to think about guys on offense stepping up and making plays when it matters most. It’s been pointed out, and expected, that Grier will continue to make mistakes and grow.

    To me, any success we have this year is icing on the cake considering what the future holds for this team. I’m looking into the future where the young, raw offensive line will be able to grow together into a strong unit; when Grier will continue to hone his decision making and start becoming more consistent; when our receivers will continue to learn to finish routes and play hard; and where the seemingly endless fountain of talent on defense will continue to replenish. I hardly expect to win more than 8 games this year. Our schedule is incredibly tough. But looking at next year, and the year after? Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. This program is headed in a very good direction.

  8. Mike the Red says:

    Great exciting win. Saw some real promise in our young team. At the same, we have prematurely declared players our savior in the past only to be disappointed.

    Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We still have a long hard road to becoming a contender for SEC championships. We have not started the difficult part of our schedule.

    Exciting win. Hope to see lots more. Go Gators!!!

    • Tractorr says:

      This is true but at least a couple of play makers are starting to emerge. I am not so worried about the passing game with Robinson, Powell, McGee, and Calloway out there. I am not going to assume any one of them is going to be our savior but between them they seem to be the best receiving corp we have had in awhile.

      Grier seems like he is headed in the right direction. He is still playing his first year of college ball. I fully expect him to have a terrible game at some point this season and we will likely lose that game unless the other team’s offense is equally wretched. However, he still looks like a guy who know how to play QB. People keep knocking him for running too much but he is still getting adjusted to the college game and there are some massive breakdowns on the line.

  9. WJP2 says:

    Great read. I’m glad Grier pulled it together in the forth because goodness. Calloway played and Powell. I wonder why Robinson stays in the dog house because he is a good player. They only went to him when the team was down. Man that game had me up and down then back up. Great game.

    • Buster says:

      Robinson is afraid of contact and drops too many balls. He had a key drop yesterday a couple of plays before the final TD.

      In retrospect it turned out to be a great drop.

  10. miamigator says:

    Good job! Many don’t understand that Grier needs to know that he is THE QB & get 1st team experience in practice. Otherwise he’ll always be tentative & playing NOT to lose the job. IF YOU HAVE 2 QBs….YOU HAVE NONE! A Lot of credit goes to an improved O-Line & the freshmen who were key performers there. The Defense was subpar. If tackling isn’t improved on Saturday, Gators have no chance. (Robinson continues to run out of bounds to avoid contact & extra yards.)

  11. Drew says:

    Our running game needs to get better. I like KT but he is not a consistent runner. He’ll have a good game and then have two bad games. He’s a talented runner but he doesn’t give us anything north-and-south. Plus KT just like Robinson, isn’t necessarily a winner. They’ve both grown accustomed to losing, under the Muschamp era. I’d like to see Kronkite and Scarlett get in the mix more for sure.

    • Spuntly says:

      I disagree with you on KT. Tennessee’s run defense played hard. After KT’s’s long run early, and Grier didn’t seem like he was going to be dangerous through the air, Tennessee started loading the box. After Rile’s went down, UT’s run defense got stronger. KT made yards out of nothing. He kept churning his legs to turn what should have been no gains into 3 or 4 yard gains. He ran for over 100 yards against a good hungry run defense. And he protected the ball well.
      As I would also like to see Scarlett and Kronkite more often, you can’t take away from KT’s performance. He gave Grier a lot of short down opportunities that didn’t get converted until later in the game.
      On most of KT’s runs, it looked like UT knew it was coming, and he still broke 100 yards.

  12. Michael Jones says:

    This team could very well finish 7-5 or 6-6 and it still be a very good year with great promise of things to come. We have to temper our expectations and not forget just how much damage the “Defensive Genius” (bahaha!) did before he was given a fat check and a hero’s send off.

    This guy can coach. These kids can play. But it’s going to take another year or more like two before we’re the Gators of old. I hope that Gator Nation can uncharacteristically show some patience and look at the big picture.

    And Grier is the deal. But like Corey is implying and I agree, McElwain is doing him a favor by not declaring him the starter at this point. Less pressure + more motivation usually = great results.