JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain made a prediction immediately after the Missouri game on Oct. 15.
It came to fruition Saturday in the Gators’ 24-10 win against Georgia.
After Florida cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson each had a pick-6 against the Tigers, McElwain started looking two weeks ahead.
“Here’s what’s going to happen next,” he said, “they’re going to test Duke (Dawson). They’re going to throw in some shifts and motions and try to work on your nickels. That’s the next thing. … I know that’s what Georgia will see and go after that.”
And that’s just what the Bulldogs did, targeting Dawson twice in the fourth quarter as they tried to rally from a 21-10 deficit.
“You’ve got to respect those two guys — the best duo in college football,” Dawson said of Tabor and Wilson. “I felt like they’re going to come after me. This whole week, the coaches preached about getting hands on guys, pressing in the slot.”
Dawson broke up a pass on third-and-5 to force a punt at the start of the fourth quarter. On the next possession, he came up big again with a pass breakup on fourth down.
The Gators scored a field goal on the ensuing drive to take a 14-point lead and put away the game.
“On the fourth-down play, the two routes I was thinking about was a slant or an out-cut,” Dawson said. “He gave me the out-cut, so I undercut him and I made a play on the ball.”
Pro Football Focus and others pinned Terry Godwin’s 38-yard reception on Dawson, but after the game he said it wasn’t his assigned area. The Gators were in cover 2 on that play, and Dawson’s responsibility was guarding the curl and the flat from his nickel position.
“I thought Duke defended unbelievably well in the pass game,” McElwain said. “They were big on slants. He was able to get that (first play) and then to break up that fourth-down one there. That guy is playing at a high level and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone, unprompted, gave praise to Dawson for coming up in crunch time against the Bulldogs.
“I think one guy that definitely stepped up was Duke Dawson,” Anzalone said. “You saw two or three big, huge plays. I know he wanted to step up doing that. He showed that he can cover very well.
“That’s a really hard position to play; I think the hardest position on the field. So, he’s doing a great job in just executing in this stretch we’re going in on.”
Dawson will be a key player for the Gators moving forward as offenses try to avoid Tabor and Wilson in the passing game. If Dawson can continue defending the way he did Saturday, quarterbacks will have an even tougher time throwing on Florida.
“I would say this is my best game so far,” said Dawson, whose 2 pass breakups were a career high. “It always feels good to make plays on the ball. That’s what I love to do.”