Photo: Zachary Carter; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
After a five-year journey away from home, a Gators defensive lineman returns to where his football career started when Florida takes on USF in Tampa on Saturday.
Entering their second weekend of action following a victory over FAU in the season opener, the Gators look to meet high expectations against an in-state opponent.
Being one of the seven members to make the two-hour drive north for his collegiate careers, Zachary Carter's homecoming is more impactful for two reasons: His play on the field and the large audience he is set to draw to Raymond James Stadium.
As a result, Carter is the AllGators X-Factor for the second week of college action.
The Florida Gators defensive line will be tested by the veteran unit South Florida presents on their front lines this weekend. Returning all five starters from a year ago, USF showed their ability to pass protect in week one, allowing zero sacks to an NC State team that dominated nearly every facet of the game on opening night.
As a result, while equipped with more talent along the defensive line than the Wolfpack, Florida will have to scrap to penetrate the backfield on passing downs in week two.
Their ability to do so starts with Carter.
As the veteran leader of the unit, as well as the most talented and versatile pass rusher on the roster, Carter’s success creating pressure on the quarterback or drawing attention to allow others to make plays will be paramount in the Gators capability to keep USF’s offense — led by quarterback Cade Fortin — in check.
Fortin, a transfer from North Carolina, won the starting job just a short time before the beginning of the 2021 season. However, his first start for the Bulls didn’t go as planned, resulting in Jeff Scott’s decision to employ Timmy McClain in relief of the sophomore in the second quarter of week one.
As a result of his struggles, Florida will look to fluster Fortin — who Scott will stick with as starter — early and often.
Showcasing a prowess for getting after the passer in week one, Carter brought down FAU Owls signal-caller N’Kosi Perry three times to account for half of UF’s six sacks on the evening and earned SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the week for his efforts.
“I mean, after that performance, I just, in my mind, I got to keep building off of that,” Carter said earlier this week. “You know, I can’t get complacent; I can’t get satisfied with that performance. I came back for a reason, so I got to continue to build off of that, and you know I'm on a mission, so I got to complete it.”
Presented an opportunity to continue his hot start to the season in front of his loved ones in his hometown of Tampa (Fla.), Carter will have extra motivation to perform at a high level.
“Man, I've been waiting for this game, honestly ‘cause I haven't played a game back home in like five years. So, I'm excited to get out there, front of the home crowd, you know. Got a lot of people trying to come support me, so I'm just excited to get out there.”
Carter will be under the microscope as his expected entourage of 30-40 people gaze onto the field at one of the region’s young stars on Saturday.
Those on the outside of the Carter collective will be watching for his tone-setting production, analyzing his play to see how he impacts a Gators defense that still sits on the hot seat following a vapid 2020 season.
Overall, Carter can be a catalyst for defensive success — and a player that helps UF meet lofty expectations of a second straight shut out of a less than satisfactory team — by balancing the excitement of playing in front of his supporters with the focus to be disruptive upfront with consistency and efficiency.
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