The focus will be the run game.
The Oregon State Beavers’ offense has thrived through its run game. It’s been the heartbeat, lifeblood, and primary source of their scoring and offense this season.
That’s why now more than ever, the Florida Gators’ pass rush must get home and disrupt quarterback Ben Gulbranson when he drops back to pass in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.
Gulbranson hasn’t been too busy this season for the Beavers, only attempting 175 passes and completing 110 of them, giving him a 62.9 completion percentage. An issue for Gulbranson as of late has been fumbling the football.
With now a fumble in four of his last five games, including the season finale against Oregon, the Gators’ pass rush has a chance to turn the tide if they can capitalize on their limited opportunities to get to Gulbranson.
Enter Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr.
Sitting just three quarterback pressures below the team lead, Powell-Ryland — along with fellow defensive linemen Gervon Dexter Sr., and Princely Umanmielen — will need to be on their A-games in forcing pressure to slow down this Beavers offense and give the UF’s offense extra chances to deliver blows.
Powell-Ryland is coming off the best game of the season against Florida State. In the season finale in Tallahassee, Powell-Ryland generated a season-high five quarterback pressures, one of which was a sack. This season, all three of his sacks have come in the final four games, mainly due to an uptick in snaps and reps following the dismissal of edge rusher Brenton Cox Jr.
Generating a 90.1 pass-rush grade against the Seminoles, the added boost will be what the Gators need against a shoddy Oregon State pass protection.
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Oregon State left tackle Joshua Gray leads his team in pressures allowed with 17, followed by starting guards Brandon Kipper (14) and Heneli Bloomfield (11). The Oregon State offensive line also tends to be called for penalties, averaging just under two per game this season.
Generating a pass rush could lead to an increased number of holding calls, helping slow down the Beavers’ offense and potentially lead to a lessened ground attack if they are consistently behind the chains in moving the ball.
An added treat for the Gators’ pass rush and Powell-Ryland is that running back Damien Martinez has been abysmal in pass-blocking snaps this season; albeit across just 31 true pass-blocking snaps, he has still mustered up just a mere 12.2 pass-blocking grade on the season, allowing four pressures.
Suppose the Gators’ defense can continue to force the Oregon State offense into longer-distance scenarios. In that case, it opens the door for the Beavers potentially taking its best player off the field or risking having him do far more of something he has struggled with this year: Protecting his quarterback.
Gulbranson also falls into an ever-increasingly appealing trap for the pass rush as, unlike the many quarterbacks the Gators have faced this season, he isn’t one to tuck the football and run.
Attempting just 14 scrambles, Gulbranson does his work from behind the line of scrimmage, keeping him well within the grasp of Powell-Ryland to force him into either bad spots or pass attempts or even to get home and sack him, something that has only happened five times this season.
Several times this season, a Gators pass rusher has been designated the X-factor to help win the Gators another game, and this week that designation and expectation fall on the shoulders of Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr.
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