Boom! Did you hear that? No it was not a supersonic jet nor a pileup at Talladega. It was the sound of Antonio Morrison changing the momentum of the Florida-Florida State game with one singularly, violent collision.
After the Gators had dominated the first half of play on the field, if not so much on the scoreboard, the Seminoles came out in the third quarter and reversed momentum with two good plays a punt return and a fumble return. Both led to short fields and quick scores and they turned a 13-3 halftime deficit into a 17-13 lead which became 20-13 after a long Florida State field goal. And then 20-17 after Sturgis kicks a field goal.
At that point, the Gators needed a play. They needed somebody to step up and seize the momentum back from the homestanding Noles and get the crowd back out of the game. Then, suddenly, starting WILL linebacker Jelani Jenkins went down to an injury. In came freshman Antonio Morrison and BOOM!
In case you were under a rock and missed the game let me describe what happened. Manuel drops back to pass, the coverage leaves nobody open, so to escape the impending pass rush Manuel takes off up the middle and as he approaches the line of scrimmage, BOOM! E.J. Manuel meet Antonio Morrison. BOOM! In one glorious, violent collision, Manuel went down, body separated from football. Florida recovers, Mike Gillislee takes it 37 yards to paydirt on first down, Florida regains a lead it will not relinquish, and the rest is the beginning of Antonio Morrison’s Gator legacy.
Morrison, a true freshman from Bolingbrook, Illinois, is one of the least known members of Will Muschamp’s first full recruiting class last season. Mostly due to the fact he grew up 1,000 miles from Gainesville and received little fanfare as a somewhat early commit to Muschamp’s program most Gator fans knew little about him. A four star recruit and one of the top recruits in the midwest, he wasn’t an unknown quantity in recruiting circles and certainly not to the staff as Muschamp, D.J. Durkin, Dan Quinn, and defensive line coach were in on his recruiting,
At 6’1″ and 215 pounds he is kind of a smallish linebacker even for a weakside backer. He is living proof, however, that big things come in small packages as he is one of the hardest hitters on the team as shown by the violent hit on Manuel on Saturday. Players respect him.
“When I had first seen him, he kind of reminded me of myself,” said outside linebacker Lerentee McCray. “He was small. When he came in, he would stick his face in there. He was a tough guy, so he kind of surprised me when I’d seen him because I’m like 210 and he’s come in and he’ll come downhill on anybody.”
When Muschamp took over he knew he needed more size and more physicality out of the linebacker position than what was present. While he didn’t bring the size necessarily, he did bring the physicality. Boy did he. Muschamp has been raving about Morrison since the start of spring practice. Morrison enrolled early in January of this year and was able to get a leg up in spring practice. He came early, he came prepared.
“This guy’s a real competitor,” Muschamp said. “Saying, ‘OK I’m from Illinois. I want to go to the SEC. I’m going early. I’m going to Florida.’ and he really came in with this competitive linebacker mindset that you love.”
“He’s a physical player,” added Muschamp. “He’s instinctive. He’s tough. Going to continue to learn. Going to have some growing bumps here and there, but he is certainly worth it because he does make a lot of plays for us.”
On Saturday, he made THE PLAY. BOOM! The shot heard round the Gator Nation and the Seminole Nation for that matter. Manuel sat out a series after the hit, but is probably still feeling it. That one singularly, violent play jump-started the Gators jolting them back to reality like a shot of cold water to the face, it was the death knell for the Seminoles fortune, and set the tone for the rest of the game. The Gators knew they needed a play, they just didn’t expect it from a true freshman. Gator Nation meet Antonio Morrison. I have a strong feeling we’ll see a lot more of those violent collisions over the next few seasons. BOOM!