Coming of age: Florida QB Will Grier turns the corner against Ole Miss

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are defining moments in every player’s career. Will Grier faced one of those moments over the weekend.

It was early in the first quarter, and Florida had just picked up a first down in Ole Miss territory. Grier stood in the Pistol formation, awaiting the snap. Keep in mind that the freshman quarterback had been throwing up all week and missed some practice time as he battled the flu. But no sickness was going to keep him from playing in this game.

Grier took the snap, faked the handoff to Kelvin Taylor, and dropped back to pass. The next thing he knew 6-foot-4, 296-pound Robert Nkemdiche was bearing down on him.

“I didn’t notice it was him,” Grier said after the game. “You try to see that in your peripherals. But you’ve got to stand in there and make a throw.”

Grier stood in there, and off his back foot, with Nkemdiche in his chinstrap, he launched it over the head of two defensive backs right into the outstretched hands of Demarcus Robinson for 36 yards and a touchdown.

“We were actually in a Fox protection, and it was something we felt we could get over the top,” McElwain said later. “The safety came out of the middle and took the over route, so we knew then that if we could just set our feet, we could probably throw it through the depth in the defense.

“It worked how it was designed. I wished all our plays worked like they were designed. That particular one, we were disciplined, and Will stood in there, set his feet and delivered.”

It was a coming-of-age moment for Grier. The Florida quarterback threw three more touchdowns in the first half and finished 24 of 29 for 271 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Gators past No. 3 Ole Miss. His total QBR of 92.6 was the second-highest against the Rebels in the last two seasons.

It was the best game of Grier's young career, and for the first time all season, he didn’t look like a freshman anymore.

“I wouldn’t say [it’s coming] easier,” Grier said. “I just think as an offense we’re starting to click. It’s starting to come together for us. I think we’re doing a better job preparing. And the guys around me, we’re all kind of elevating as a team and doing a really good job.”

Credit those around him, especially his receiving corps.

Robinson finished with eight catches for 98 yards and the early touchdown Saturday night. Brandon Powell caught a short pass over the middle, turned up field and took it 77 yards for a touchdown. Tight end Jake McGee caught his first touchdown of the season, along with a handful of critical first-down grabs.

But it starts with Grier, and if he keeps playing like he did against Ole Miss, Florida might really be the favorite in the SEC East and a possible playoff contender.

“That’s Game 5 for him,” McGee said. “If he stays on his pace, then ... things look good for him. He’s a guy where the more game snaps he has the more comfortable he gets. That’s a position where you’re usually not thrown in there this young, and he’s responded great and looks fantastic back there.”

Grier will face another test this weekend when the Gators go on the road to take on a Missouri team that leads the conference in both total defense and scoring defense. His last road start, at Kentucky, he went 13 of 22 for 125 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, though he did rush for 61 yards and a score.

The good news is he no longer has to worry about Nkemdiche coming after him.