The stage couldn't bigger for Florida football sophomore quarterback Max Brown to make his first career start.
Due to a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Graham Mertz, Brown will start Saturday for the Florida Gators in The Swamp against rival No. 5 Florida State (11-0).
Florida (5-6, 3-5 SEC) will look to snap a four-game losing streak and get a win in its final shot at bowl eligibility. UF could also spoil FSU's College Football Playoff hopes. Florida State beat Florida 45-38 last season in Tallahassee, and overall, has won six of the last nine meetings between the two schools.
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"This is a game that matters 24/7, 365," Florida football coach Billy Napier said. "We're certainly excited about being in the Swamp Saturday night, sold-out crowd. I think that's five straight for Gator Nation. So we're very thankful for that."
Napier confirmed that Mertz will be out for the game after undergoing another x-ray on Sunday, and that his broken collarbone will be re-evaluated in two weeks to determine whether he needs surgery. In 11 starts, Mertz completed 72.9 percent of his passes, passing for 2,903 yards with 20 TDs to 3 interceptions.
Brown showed poise in relief of Mertz on Saturday against Missouri, finishing the game 4 of 5 passing for 56 yards with 42 yards rushing to lead UF to 10 straight points on a touchdown drive and late field goal drive.
"He's a baller," Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall said. "I think he's one of those guys, I don't think the lights get too bright for him. He's ready at all times. I'm super proud of the way he performed. And I'm looking forward to obviously being a part of that with him."
Florida State also playing a backup quarterback
Napier said the Gators will tailor a game-plan to play to Brown's strengths as a dual threat quarterback. It will be a battle of backup quarterbacks, as Florida State standout Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending leg injury last week against North Alabama. Redshirt junior Tate Rodemaker, who completed 13 of 27 passes for 217 yards and 2 TDs in relief of Travis against North Alabama, will start for Florida State.
There's a family connection between Rodemaker and Napier, whose father, the late Bill Napier, was friends with Rodemaker's father, former Valdosta (Ga.) High coach Alan Rodemaker.
"He's a coach's son," Napier said. "He's very bright. This is his fourth year in the system. So he got there in '20. So I mean he's acquired reps throughout his time there. He'll have a good grasp of what they do.
"A little bit different type of player but certainly he's got his strengths. And they've got terrific skill around him. So there will be an element of experience. I think that's the big thing."
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Florida Gators football to start Max Brown at QB vs. FSU Seminoles