GAINESVILLE — When De'Ante "Pop" Saunders intercepted a first-half pass during
The Gators didn't capitalize on Saunders' pick — UF quarterback
"That's what we need . . . to get our offense back on the field and get points on the board," Watkins said. "But if we can turn interceptions into touchdowns, that's even better. As a team, it helps everybody. "
Then right before the first half ended, linebacker Michael Taylor picked off another Newton pass and just like that, the Gators were already at five interceptions in their first four games. They were only able to pick off nine passes during the entire 13-game schedule last year.
For Saunders, who was not made available to the media following the game, it was a nice way to celebrate a return home after he was held out of the Gators' home opener, supposedly because of an injury. He started at one corner in the nickel defensive scheme — five defensive backs — Saturday after Cody Riggs was held out with an injury (right foot).
"Cody goes down and Pop's able to come in there and fill in and do a nice job for us. It was a big interception," UF head coach Will Muschamp said of former DeLand standout. "Pop's very intelligent. He can play a lot of positions.
"He missed a tackle there in the first drive that was disappointing, but Pop's played good football for us since he's been at Florida. He started as a true freshman in his first ball game … he's been a guy we're pleased with."
It was Watkins' first career pick. The junior was the No. 4-rated prospect in the country by Rivals.com coming out of Cape Coral High in 2010, but things had not exactly gotten off to the start he expected.
"It's my first career interception and I turned it into a touchdown. It felt great . . . can't even explain it," Watkins said. "Before the play, I was like, if he throws this, it's a touchdown. I mean, I knew it was coming. I'd seen it in film over and over and over in film. I watched it some more last night. . . . It was just pretty obvious."
Muschamp has emphasized the Gators' need to improve upon the turnover ratio and, so far, the Gators have done that this season in their 4-0 start.
"It's so important to the point that when we're in scout team work and get interceptions we have to make sure we return them all the way and get blocks," Watkins said. "It keeps the offense off the field and puts points on the board. If we can help the offense with that, even better."
The pick was a long time coming for Watkins, who had to jar his memory to go a little deeper to remember the last time he returned one for a touchdown.
"High school .. junior year," he said.
It was a big day for the Watkins family as Jaylen's brother Sammy, who is a wide receiver at
Dad, Sammy Watkins Sr., reached by cell phone, said he had to record the UF game since he was en route to Tallahassee for the big
"Yeah, I was so excited for him and happy for him," Watkins Sr. said. "His hard work is paying off because he is making plays."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at
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