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Gators to give Will Grier his first start vs. East Carolina

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This time, it’s Will’s show.

University of Florida head football coach Jim McElwain has decided to flip his quarterbacks this week, meaning redshirt freshman Will Grier will get the start for the Gators.

Last week, Grier sat and watched as Treon Harris got the start. Harris hit his first seven passes and accounted for two touchdowns. Still, Grier was impressive, hitting 16 of 18 passes (and one drop) for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 43 yards and a score. Harris, who started the final six games last season, was 14 of 19 for 215 yards and two scores.

Both quarterbacks moved the ball against an outmanned New Mexico State team. This week, things seem to be a little tougher. Not SEC tough, but a bit more of a challenge.

More than that, this game will serve as the perfect barometer to see if these Gators are really better than last year’s version.

Remember, Florida beat East Carolina 28-20 in last year’s Birmingham Bowl in its last game before Jim McElwain took over, before Treon Harris and Will Grier started sharing time at quarterback, before a 61-13 victory over New Mexico State.

East Carolina outgained Florida by some 200 yards in the Birmingham Bowl but was unable to finish. Most around Gainesville seem to think there is a new energy to the program, which would be nice to see again. Hey, Florida beat Eastern Michigan 65-0 last year, but had to go to three overtimes the next week to get past Kentucky.

East Carolina is one of those better-than-you-think programs, a team that has been to bowl games in eight of its last nine years and has won 26 times over the last three. It lost quarterback Shane Carden and receiver Justin Hardy, so it doesn’t seem quite as formidable as a year ago. New quarterback Kurt Benkert will help define the Pirates

As for the Gators, it might be a bit tougher to run the ball (ECU was 11th in the nation against the run last year), which could put the game back in the hands of Harris and Grier, and perhaps give a few more clues of who Florida will depend upon in its game against Tennessee.

The Gators learned a little something about McElwain this week. A lopsided win doesn’t always impress him. He was light with his praise of Harris and Grier, and he chastised them for middle-of-the-week practices. He complained about his team being slow off the ball at times.

Harris and Grier combined to complete 30 of 37 passes with four touchdowns. However, McElwain didn’t sound impressed.

“They were OK in the last game,” McElwain said. “They weren’t great. It wasn’t earth-shattering by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve got to get a better.

“I look for them to hopefully take another step this week.”

McElwain expressed displeasure at his team during the week, indicating that the performance last week won’t be good enough in the weeks to come.

“I want them to go out and do great,” McElwain said. “Really, I want them to be successful. They deserve that. So what gets frustrating is when you see them maybe sometimes allow themselves to be average and say, ‘That’s OK. My bad.'”

The rest of the state schedule:

Friday

8 p.m. — Miami at Florida Atlantic

Saturday

11:30 a.m. — South Florida at Florida State
7 p.m. — East Carolina at Florida
8 p.m. — Florida International at Indiana

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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