Florida football’s true freshmen paying dividends as they get more field time

By Michael Phillips
November 15, 2019
Florida football’s true freshmen paying dividends as they get more field time
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

When the No. 11 Florida Gators dismantled the Vanderbilt Commodores 56-0 on Saturday, it was a drubbing on all fronts. After a brief slow start, it seemed like everything was clicking for head coach Dan Mullen’s squad. In fact, the third quarter saw Florida’s offense gain a first down or a touchdown on every single offensive play. 

“I didn’t even notice,” Mullen said. “I didn’t know that until after the game. You know, I’m always kind of onto the next play, the next series, next possession. … It was great execution. Came out [of halftime] and executed clean, and guys made plays. … We didn’t need to change a whole lot. We just needed to finish. We seemed to finish every single play in the third quarter, not just the drives.”

The Gators’ magnificent third quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask’s performance, graduate transfer defensive end Jonathan Greenard’s fumble return for score and redshirt freshman QB Emory’s Jones’ three touchdowns on the ground were the main takeaways from the game, but lost in the victory were the performances of two freshmen for Florida. 

Guard Ethan White and outside linebacker Mohamoud Diabate shined against the Commodores on Saturday. With a tough test coming up this week at Missouri, there should be no doubt that the Gators will be relying on them again.

White was filling in at right guard in his first career start since Chris Bleich elected to leave the program and enter his name into the transfer portal. The moment wasn’t too big for him, either. White not only held his own against Vanderbilt, but he excelled at right guard. 

According to Pro Football Focus, White allowed only on quarterback pressure on 46 pass blocking snaps Saturday. 

“Ethan I thought played really well,” Mullen said. “I thought he did a great job. … He was able to stay relaxed and stay confident. He prepared the right way, played with confidence and I thought he played really well.”

“I wasn’t surprised to put him in that early,” Trask added. “He is a hard-working player, and he produced everyday during practice. And I thought he did really, really well. I think he worked really, really hard and it showed on Saturday.”

On the other side of the ball, Diabate also made a big statement against Vanderbilt. The freshman has filled in throughout the season at linebacker, edge rusher and Star for Florida, but Saturday was his coming out party of sorts. His versatility has earned him snaps, and he cemented his importance as he totaled four tackles (three for loss), three sacks and a forced fumble in just 19 plays. 

“Mohamoud’s a great example for guys,” Mullen said. “I talk about this with our team. Everybody gets worries about, ‘How many plays did I play? Who went in the game first? This guy played the first series and I didn’t play until the third series. I only got this many snaps. I only got that many snaps. Mohamoud was the SEC Freshman of the Week and played 19 plays. Right? A great message for guys on the team that I talk about. Worry about the plays you’re in the game, all right? Don’t worry about the plays you’re not in the game.”

Diabate has played more snaps in other games, such as against Georgia and South Carolina, but didn’t make nearly the same impact. As he has grown within the system, he has learned to play faster and with more confidence.

Diabate caused Greenard’s 80-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. He came screaming off the edge unblocked and knocked the ball loose with a violent swipe at quarterback Deuce Wallace’s arm.

As the season nears its end, the Gators are focused on improving across the board and within their depth. Diabate and White have proven to be two guys who look to be reliable down the stretch. Florida will need them again Saturday at Missouri as it looks to close the 2019 season strong with an aim on a New Year’s Six bowl game.

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