Florida’s Quarterback Quandary

For some there is no other way to do it at this point. Treon Harris needs to take the helm of the quarterback position at Florida if he is the backup that is most capable of doing that. From the little we have seen, it certainly looks that he is capable. But, is sidelining Jeff Driskel the best thing to do? Let’s ponder that just a bit.

Now those Florida fans that read my columns and posts on the message boards at Fightin’ Gators regularly, know that I am not the type to be frantic about everything that happens in a game or even off-the-field when it comes to sports in the instant it happens. Sure things are amped up when the game is live and you are watching it for the first time.

Sometimes you have to sit back, look at it all, and maybe even look at it over again.

That is why I took the time to agonizingly break down the game film from Saturday’s big loss to Alabama in my own way in my 'Redman Reaction: Offense vs. Alabama'. I went play-by-play, slow motion, on every one. And I looked for everything that I could to help me make my mind up on things like the quarterback situation at Florida.

After watching it all, looking at quarterback Jeff Driskel and where he is throwing, how he is throwing it, and the other options he might have had on the throw, as well as his production in the running game and the decisions he made there, I came up with a mixed bag of thoughts on his play during the game.

After paying close attention to the players around him, and the receivers he was throwing the ball to, it was easy to see that many of the miscues were not his fault. Some drops, some missed blocks, some wrong patterns etc. There were certainly times when he threw the ball high, he didn’t hit the optimal receiver on the play, he missed a blitz read and Alabama made a play from it, or he chose the wrong time to keep the ball or hand off on a read… all of those things. There were also times when he threw the ball extremely well. He executed the touchdown throw to Valdez Showers, which was easy. He hit a receiver 20 yards downfield, in the face mask, and on a rope down the sideline only to see it fall to the ground. Four absolute drops in all, for first downs nonetheless, couldn’t be blamed on Driskel.

But at the end of the day, we need to see more from the starting quarterback at Florida.

“Jeff needs to play better, he understands that,” Florida head coach Will Muschamp said at his weekly presser on Wednesday. “He certainly forced some things that we can’t afford to do, and especially on two of the interceptions.”

This is what the Florida offense, the team, and the program under the current leadership could afford the least in 2014. They need the starting quarterback to be a difference maker. They need him to cut down on his mistakes, they need him to play like… well the Jeff Driskel of the second half of the Texas A&M game in 2012 on the road or the Vanderbilt game the same year. Play like the guy that almost beat Georgia that year except for a fumble at the goal line by the tight end. Play like he did in the big win against #10 Florida State at home that year as well. All of those teams were Top 25 teams, three in the top 10, and he played well in the clutch in all of those games.

We sometimes forget about THAT Driskel, because he is still connected to a season last year that the Gators lost eight games, of which one of those games he was the starter before being injured for the season.

Sure there have been some losses, four total. His record as a starter overall is 14-4. He has wins of five top 25 teams and losses to a #5 UGA, #3 Bama, #14 Louisville, and unranked Miami. All of these were on the road or at neutral sites. Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who hasn’t lost a game yet, has four wins against ranked teams. And I am not trying to compare him to Winston as an overall quarterback. Just about the tough road he has had to travel.

This is the dilemma this coaching staff faces. They see the things that Driskel can do. Not just in practice but many feats in the games listed above. They know with the right help around him that he could do more. And that is why he hasn’t been pushed aside as the starter for the Gators.

Those are valid reasons in my book. But, that doesn’t mean things can’t change and if you have a good enough option to interject some change, then you probably should under these circumstances.

Florida needs a spark.

Of course every Gators fan and their brother are calling for that spark to be freshman quarterback Treon Harris. Harris of the 1,245,346 Quarterback Rating with his 2-for-2 passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns on his Gator career.

Harris actually played a down in the first series in the opener against Eastern Michigan when he was called on in short yardage to run the Wildcat offense. The play got stuffed, but he came in late in the game and now has the stats listed above. And now the old cliché is hard to fight, ‘everyone’s favorite player is the backup quarterback’.

There is some merit to wanting him to play and most of it comes from the lack of success of Driskel at quarterback so far this year. Again, it isn’t all Driskel’s fault, but this offense is in need of some fireworks and we aren’t getting much.

Muschamp says Treon is a situational guy at the moment. He spends time in practice learning the whole offense, but there are packages they actually intend to put him in when the time is right.

“Game by game give him some opportunities,” Muschamp said of the way they would like to work him in. “We’d like to have him have some snaps, depending on the situation in the game.”

But, it’s probably time for a little more.

I’m not saying there needs to be a whole sale switch at the position. I don’t think that Harris has had time to absorb the entire offense enough to get to the line of scrimmage and just run the whole thing from the cadence, to reading the pre-snap defense, to watching the time clock, to checking to the right play call when necessary, to reading the defense, and then actually making the proper throw. He has been on campus in Gainesville for a total of three months. He’s a heady player and filled with football savvy, but I just don’t know if he is ready for all of that.

Instead, work Harris in now. If the plan is to red-shirt Will Grier like everyone believes are in his best interests, reportedly including him and his family, then Harris is the one that needs to get snaps.

The last time we had this opportunity and it was successful throughout the year the names were Leak and Tebow and they had a fun time in Arizona in January at the end of that season. I am not trying to say these two really compare with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and the 2006 team, but a complimentary quarterback used more than sparingly can go a long way in not only sparking the team, but annoy the heck out of defensive coordinators trying to prepare for the offense that week.

Tebow was the more dynamic player in that scenario. That season a lot people clamored for him to play more and more or even start, but how many can forget the game Leak had in his swan song against Ohio State for a national title? It would have been a herculean task for Tebow to be the guy for the whole year.

I think that can and will be the scenario they shoot for. They’ve already designated Harris as a guy that should attack defenses in certain scenarios. Fine, but continue to work with him on the whole game and do what you have to do to find that spark. We don’t have to talk about a switch as the starter. We have to talk about making something happen on offense.

Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who most believe is a very smart man and probably the right guy for the job on offense, has a history of using two quarterbacks and being successful at it. I would think he is starting to see that opportunity here.

This is what I think will happen. Muschamp didn’t say as much on Wednesday, but he did talk enough about the offense needing to get better and Driskel’s play in that offense as well to make me believe something could happen and I think it will and this bye week is the best time to do it.

“I thought about it (putting Harris in), especially late in the game, Saturday. But I just feel like, right now, Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win the game. I think there’s something to that certainly. I have all the confidence in the world in Treon… when he has his opportunity he’ll play well.”

I think it’s that time.


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