Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson have spent the past three years bonding over interceptions and NFL aspirations.
Each time the ball is snapped and the quarterback drops back to pass, Florida’s junior cornerbacks lock in on the receiver in front of him, never letting him out of sight.
Each views himself as a shutdown corner, a defender who can go up against the opposition’s best player and shut him down with ease.
“We feel like we’re the best two in the country, 1A [and] 1B,” Tabor said. “It depends who you like more.”
The rivalry fuels them. When one is shining, the other wants to shine just as bright.
And with just No. 20 Florida’s game against No. 21 Iowa in the Outback Bowl on Monday remaining before the two likely opt to leave early for the NFL Draft, both Tabor and Wilson plan to prove for possibly one last time that they’re one of the top cornerback tandems in the country.
“We feed off each other,” said Wilson, a former standout at Fort Lauderdale’s University School. “It’s a friendly competition. It ain’t nothing like, ‘I’m better than him, he’s better than me.’ But we both think we’re the best, and we’re just out there trying to get as many picks as we can.”
They’ve elevated each other’s game for three years, attempting to match each other play for play, interception for interception.
Take Florida’s 40-14 victory over Missouri as a prime example. With the Gators leading just 6-0 late in the first half, Tabor jumped a route on the right sideline to intercept quarterback Drew Lock’s pass. He ran 39 yards untouched into the end zone for a touchdown, the third pick-six of his career.
Ten plays later, Wilson grabbed an interception of his own, leaping in front of a pair of Missouri receivers and sprinting 78 yards for a pick-six.
“When you’ve got two great corners like that, you’ve got to pick one side of the field, right?” UF coach Jim McElwain said after the Missouri game. “ … Pick your poison.”
They’ve been the cornerstone of UF’s secondary, a group that has fueled Florida’s third-ranked pass defense (156.3 yards per game).
The Gators have also given up just eight passing touchdowns, tied with Georgia State for the least in the nation.
Overall, Wilson and Tabor have combined for seven of Florida’s 13 interceptions and have defended 18 total passes.
“They’re confident,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said earlier in the season.
“They’re athletic. They’re long. They play with swagger, and they’re just two talented guys.”
And NFL Draft scouts are taking notice. ESPN analyst Todd McShay has Tabor ranked 16th on his most recent big board, with McShay saying Tabor “has some of the best ball skills among cornerbacks in this draft class.”
Wilson is ranked 25th and has been praised for his combination of length and speed at the corner position. Most mock drafts have both corners being taken in the first round.
And while they are likely going to leave after this season, Tabor and Wilson are waiting until after the game to make their decision.