Bryan Ellis probably won’t leave Florida Field a winner Saturday. He just won’t. He’s not supposed to.
That won’t make it any easier.
It didn’t feel good settling for second when UAB walked into Neyland Stadium and came close to stunning Tennessee in front of 95,183 fans last September.
In his first career start, Ellis torched the Volunteers’ secondary, passing for 373 yards and helping overcome a 23-7 halftime deficit.
UAB lost 32-29 in double overtime, and Vols fans showed appreciation for the opponent’s efforts. They cheered the underdog quarterback who got his hopes up, who thought maybe, just maybe, he could be a hero.
“I’d rather go off the field to boos,” he told The Birmingham News after the game.
Ellis, a redshirt senior, will have one last chance to earn some jeers when UAB comes to Gainesville this weekend. In the last five seasons, the Blazers have played six games against Southeastern Conference teams. They have lost six times, though they nearly scored an upset twice last year, the other coming in a five-point loss at Mississippi State in October.
Like in those six games, UAB will be the less talented team when it takes the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Overall, the Blazers won’t be as fast. They won’t be as strong. They won’t be as skilled. But they also won’t be intimidated.
“We’ve been to some arenas that we can remember experiences from, and hopefully that will help us,” said Ellis, who also played in front 74,656 fans at Texas A&M in 2009. “We have to let the new guys know that it will be like nothing they have experienced, and it will be fun.”
If the Blazers are to keep Saturday’s game tight, they will need a strong effort out of their offense. UAB is coming off its two most productive seasons in school history — 5,111 yards in 2009, 5,074 yards last year.
To keep things running smoothly, the Blazers will put the offense on Ellis’ shoulders. Senior running back Pat Shed — the team’s leading rusher and receiver last season — is questionable with a hernia.
The receiving corps, meanwhile, is depleted. Three of the team’s top-five pass catchers from 2010 are gone. Still, the Blazers run a spread system that has consistently marched down the field, and the Gators’ young defensive backfield remains untested.
Last Saturday, Florida had the luxury of opening up against a quarterback with just five career pass attempts.
“We have to completely shift gears,” coach Will Muschamp said. “That is the one thing that is hard about being a defensive player in the NCAA.”
If Florida’s defense isn’t ready, maybe Ellis can surprise them like he did against Tennessee. And maybe he can win this time. But probably not.