Desmond Watson praised by Napier, teammates following first career takeaway

Desmond Watson praised by Napier, teammates following first career takeaway

A month prior to Saturday’s 38-6 win over South Carolina, UF cornerback Jaydon Hill jumped a route and sprinted in the other direction for a pick-six in Florida’s 24-17 win over Missouri, yet those watching the game from home were likely confused to hear the play-by-play announcer inadvertently attribute the defensive touchdown to defensive tackle Desmond Watson.

Against the Gamecocks, however, there was no mistake to be made – Watson did, in fact, force the first fumble of his UF career in addition to his first recovery, and he had space in front of him to take off running following his third -quarter takeaway.

Watson, listed at 415 pounds, stripped the ball from South Carolina tight end Jaheim Bell and took off running in the opposite direction without hesitation, needing only 20 yards to reach the endzone.

After taking several steps, Watson switched the football into his left hand and stiff-armed the pursuing tackler, quarterback Spencer Rattlerwith his right hand, though Rattler did just enough to bring the sophomore defensive tackle tumbling to the ground at South Carolina’s 12-yard line.

Immediately, Watson’s teammates mobbed him in celebration, which, according to head coach Billy Napier, elicited a sideline warning for the Gators. Yet Florida’s coach, who has made it an onus to curb out unnecessary penalties, seemed to take no issue with the infraction.

“I always tell the players I want the officials to warn me. I want you to celebrate with your teammates. I want the sideline energy. I want you to be creative, but that was next level stuff. We got a warning, and rightfully so. Man, the guy just ripped it out of his hands and that’s a 440-pound man trying to run with that ball,” Napier said of Watson’s play and the ensuing reception. “Six-foot-five and a half. I’m proud of Des. He’s come a long way and he’s only going to get better.”

While it was all in jest, Watson’s teammates were quick to let him hear it for being brought down short of the goal-line by a quarterback listed at 6-foot-1, 215-pounds.

“I’m went to talk to Des, I’m like, ‘Bro, how did you get tackled by him?’,” quarterback Anthony Richardson said with a laugh. “But hey, Des made a play, shoutout to him. Kind of shocked me when I saw him switching the ball and stiff arming people. Shoutout to Des for making a big play.”

In the mind of standout right guard O’Cyrus Torrence, who helped pave the way for Florida to gain a season-high 374 rushing yards against the Gamecocks, Watson’s play stood out the most in a performance filled with memorable moments from a variety of Gators .

“It was the best part of the game to me. I wish he would have scored. We would have got three flags thrown, more than just one, on the field. But it was great. I’m just glad he was able to — wish he could have scored it, but I’m just glad he was able to get the turnover,” Torrence said, “and just seeing the defense turn up and just have a good game like they did was just something fun to see.”

Three plays later, Richardson did what Watson couldn’t and found the end zone on a four-yard throw to Jonathan Odom, which marked the tight end’s first catch of the season and his first career touchdown. Watson would finish the game with three tackles, including sharing a tackle for loss, to go along with his highlight-reel moment.

He may have had the opportunity, but Watson wasn’t expected to cross the goal-line for six for the Gators – Florida’s coaching staff has made it an expectation, however, to win the turnover battle. Following Saturday’s dismantling of the Gamecocks, the Gators moved into a tie for 11th in the FBS in turnover margin with 18 takeaways to 10 turnovers of their own, and would be ranked even higher if it weren’t for a late-game fumble by Nay ‘Quan Wright, which ended a streak of 50 consecutive offensive possessions without a turnover.

“That’s a definite point of emphasis, every week,” linebacker Ventell Miller said. “We know turnovers win ball games, so we definitely try to go out there and get turnovers every game.”

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