The game seemed well in hand.
Vanderbilt's offense had amassed 18 total yards in the first half, and Florida was finally finishing drives. But down 28-0, the Commodores put together a promising drive midway through the third quarter.
Vanderbilt quarterback Deuce Wallace took the snap from UF’s 10-yard line and looked right. But to his left came an untouched defender, a blue blur. Wallace never saw him. Hit from the blind side on his windup, the ball spurted out and into the hands of edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, who strolled his way down the field for the defensive score.
While Greenard high-stepped down the sidelines, Wallace turned to see who made the big play. He saw the 6-foot-2 freshman who had pressured him all game and just made his third sack — Mohamoud Diabate.
“We were just trying to do what we do: get sacks, get to the quarterback, affect the quarterback, and what happened just happened,” he said after the game. “I feel like we got our edge back.”
Wallace may not have known who Diabate was before the game, but he did after. Those who followed Diabate since high school were unsurprised to see the freshman take advantage of the opportunity.
“I think I was asked probably a couple of weeks ago about him, and I talked about his acceleration, burst and speed and athletic ability,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who recruited him to UF. “That kind of showed up in the game in the sense of he has the tools to have explosive type plays, impact kind of plays.”
In his final two years of high school, Diabate made 117 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 17 sacks. He was named a finalist for Class 7A Lineman of the Year in 2017 and selected to the 2019 U.S. Army All-American Bowl his senior year.
Recruited as a four-star outside linebacker and pass rusher, Diabate was offered scholarships from top schools like Alabama, Texas A&M and his hometown Auburn but opted for Florida instead and enrolled early in January to get a head start on learning the program.
Though he showed potential in camp, Diabate was limited in the spring game, making just one tackle. The lack of playing time bled into the fall as the freshman watched from the sidelines for most of the season.
His first meaningful snaps came nine weeks into the season against Georgia. He made four tackles from the edge and was given the starting spot against Vanderbilt, where he recorded three sacks and forced fumble on just 19 plays.
“He was just waiting on his moment, being ready, being prepared and going hard as he can when he gets his opportunity,” defensive lineman Adam Shuler said.
Diabate was a big reason for UF's third shutout of the season, as all his sacks came on third down.
He's one of seven true freshmen on defense who has made a tackle this season, and he feels he's getting the chance to show what he can do
“I always felt like I had the talent,” Diabate said. “I just had to mature and get the opportunity to do so.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Linebacker Mohamoud Diabate had three sacks on Saturday.