After falling in defeat in the SEC Championship Game versus Alabama 52-46, Florida drew Oklahoma as their first out of conference opponent to cap off the 2020 season in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
Only the second meeting ever between the two schools—the last coming in the 2008 National Championship Game that the Gators would win 24-14—Florida looks to have their hands full defensively, as they have all season long, against the high-octane offensive attack of OU.
Averaging 41.8 points and 475.8 yards per game, Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler and company have completely turned the trajectory of the season around following an uncharacteristic 1-2 start with continuous improvement on the offensive side of the football.
With a high-scoring affair set to take place in Jerry's World, a shaky Gators secondary is going to be in the spotlight yet again this week with expectations to pressure the Sooners redshirt freshman quarterback into making bad decisions the way he did early in the season.
As a result, in the final Florida Gators X-Factor of the 2020 season, we look to the backend of the Gators defense in the form of Brad Stewart Jr. to build upon the best performance of his season and become a catalyst for defensive success against the Sooners offensive firepower.
Battling it out against one of the most innovative offensive minds across the landscape of the sport in Lincoln Riley, the Gators' defense will be put to the test against a team that is no stranger to winning in shootouts. Employing a system of run-pass option concepts that give a multitude of different looks for opposing defenses to contain, the complexity of the Sooners scheme could be too much for the middle of the road defense to handle.
As a result, Todd Grantham’s unit needs to take chances, and that starts and stops with the performance of Stewart.
Accounting for nine tackles, one pass defended, and a tackle for loss against the Crimson Tide last Saturday, Stewart was flying all over the field from his STAR nickel position in Atlanta. Putting together one of the best performances to date while in orange and blue, Stewart played a significant role in the defense's ability to create stops early in the second half and present the Gators' offense opportunities to climb back into the ball game.
On the season, Stewart has accounted for the seventh-most tackles on the Florida team with 40, one sack, three passes defended, and one forced fumble. Equipped with the skillset that can completely alter the course of a contest due to his ball skills and range as a coverage man, Stewart showcases Florida's best ability to create vital turnovers against the young Sooners quarterback.
Likely to see a large portion of the Sooners leading receiver in Marvin Mims in the slot, Stewart sits as the wild card in this game. Lacking consistency throughout his career but showing incredible flashes of talent, Stewart playing at a high level elevates a secondary that has struggled mightily throughout the season.
Forever going down in Florida history as the man who picked off Joe Burrow and took it back for a game-sealing touchdown in the 2018 rendition of LSU versus Florida, Stewart has proven he can put his talents on display in the biggest of contests.
Set to be on the national stage to cap off his Gators career before departing from the program in the 2020 offseason, Stewart’s playmaking potential reigns as a key component to the Gators' success in Dallas.
With two of the brightest offensive minds in Dan Mullen and Lincoln Riley set to face off for the first time, every defensive stop counts. In fact, the first team to get a stop could find themselves celebrating later in the night as victors.
The scoreboard is going to be riddled with points one way or another with those two set to call plays. If Stewart can find a way to contribute to that total and elevate the secondary as a whole with his performance on Dec. 30, Florida could find themselves leaving 2020 with yet another New Year Six bowl victory beneath their belt.