Florida coach Jim McElwain had no choice but to stick with his struggling, inexperienced quarterback.
Will Grier, a redshirt freshman making just his third-career start, labored for three quarters against Tennessee, and had Treon Harris been available (suspension), Grier probably wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to be the hero at the end.
Instead, Grier grew up.
The Gators’ quarterback found some fourth down — and fourth quarter — magic, engineering a riveting comeback in UF’s 28-27 win over Tennessee.
“You’ve got to battle, you’ve got to deal with adversity,” Grier said.
“You’ve got to respond. This is my team. My teammates did a really good job just staying in it. We fought to the end and that’s what you’ve got to do to win games like that.”
Grier took his lumps early, going 12 of 24 for 142 yards and an interception through three quarters. He was battered and bruised (14 rushes, three sacks), but he overcame his happy feet and accuracy issues to throw for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone.
“We were behind Will and just told him, ‘Keep pushing,’ ” said receiver Brandon Powell, who caught one of the two fourth quarter touchdown passes. “ ‘Make a big play. You’re the quarterback for a reason.’ He did. He went out and made some big plays and we ended up winning the game.”
On Friday, former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow praised Grier’s “courage,” “heart” and “effort.”
Grier exemplified those very attributes during the game’s tensest moments Saturday, as the quarterback was a maestro on fourth down (a perfect 5 of 5 for 123 yards and a score).
“We never felt nervous,” said Grier, who piloted the second-largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. “We tried to just stay in [the moment]. Be calm and execute.”
The Gators trailed the Vols by 13 with 10:19 remaining in the final period. Grier led a 17-play, 86-yard drive to cut the deficit to six and on the very next series he starred in Florida’s own version of the Lindsay Scott play — a 63-yard pass to wideout Antonio Callaway on fourth-and-14 for the game-winning score.
Grier not only led UF to victory, but he won over the locker room, too.
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“The whole team saw some things there,” McElwain said.
“That was really good. There were a whole lot of guys contributing. You know, I think as the development of that position having that confidence that you can take drives down when you need to and stick them in the end zone, that really helps. I thought he actually looked pretty steady in the pocket on those two drives and that was good to see.”
▪ With starting kicker Austin Hardin sidelined with a leg injury, redshirt freshman walk-on Jorge Powell, a Belen Jesuit Prep graduate, handled the duties perfectly Saturday.
Powell drilled all four extra-points, including the game-winner. The walk-on also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return in the second half.
“He did what we thought,” McElwain said. “He came in there and did his job. That’s what kickers do.”