Muschamp: Quarterback job undecided

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Gators needed energy for a stagnant offense on Saturday, they turned to freshman Treon Harris. He brought Florida back from a nine-point deficit to pull out a 10-9 win in Knoxville.

The third quarter ended with Florida sitting on 158 yards. Jeff Driskel was 11-23 through the air for 59 yards with three interceptions. The offense was struggling to move the ball, and even when they made it into Tennessee territory, drives quickly came to an end. Florida's nation-best streak of 325 games without being shut out was in danger of being snapped.

Freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor’s strip sack changed the momentum of the game, giving the Gators the ball at the Tennessee 30-yard line. Treon Harris had been throwing on the sideline throughout the third quarter but never saw the field. That changed when the momentum flipped and Florida had a chance to score.

“We were just very stagnant on offense,” Will Muschamp said on the reason for the change.

A handoff to Matt Jones went for three yards to start the drive, and Harris hit Jones for 12 yards down the sideline on the next snap. After Harris kept the ball for a 10-yard run, back-to-back Jones runs was enough to get the ball in the end zone and cut the Tennessee lead to 9-7.

The stadium grew eerily quiet with fear of Florida’s nine-game winning streak turning into 10. The Volunteers had seen this before. After a stop on Tennessee’s next drive, the Gators got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Mostly on the back of Jones, the Gators pushed into Tennessee territory and used a 49-yard field goal to take a lead they would never relinquish.

Harris might not have made the downfield throws to change the game, but his composure in front of a sold-out Neyland Stadium played a big part in the win.

“He obviously brought some energy to us,” Muschamp said. “Really proud of his composure coming into a tough place and doing a great job. Extremely proud of him. The guy has a calmness about him, very confident.

“They’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s one of those guys that has the ‘it’ factor. He’s a winner. He won at Booker T. for a bunch of games … There are guys that have that certain aura about themselves.”

The offense struggled to move the football with any consistency under Driskel, but Harris came in and turned two drives into 10 points. So now what?

That’s what the Gators will aim to find out after reviewing the film.

“Moving forward, we won’t make any decision about who’s going to start our next ball game today,” Muschamp said. “It was a very emotional win. We’re going to go home and watch the film, see why we’re not doing things offensively that are there. It’s not all on Jeff. We just weren’t getting into any flow in the game.”

Muschamp was quick to point out that the errors with Driskel on the field weren’t all his fault. The Gators had protection issues at times and at least two busted routes that Muschamp could remember off the top of his head. Florida called a screen on a third down in the third quarter, but the receiver didn’t run the route, and Driskel was sacked to end the drive.

“It’s not all on Jeff Driskel,” Muschamp said. “I know we’ll all write that it is on him. It’s not. I’m not defending him. I’m a football coach. There are things that happen to him that are very, in my opinion, tough on him to be able to handle. Unfortunately being the quarterback, you’re going to take the brunt. He understands that.

“He’s a tough guy. He’s also a big-picture guy that understands the game of football. He understands it’s not on his shoulders as far as some of the mistakes that are made.”

Driskel was already on the team bus to leave the stadium during postgame interviews, but to his credit, the junior got off the bus and went to the interview room to speak to the media. He spent time encouraging Harris before the freshman went on the field, but both quarterbacks know nothing has been decided yet.

The offense struggled with Driskel running it, and he was pulled late in the third quarter.

“It was frustrating,” Driskel said. “We weren’t getting the ball moving. We weren’t doing much, especially in the passing game. It’s tough when the defense is playing that good and you can’t get anything going on offense. It was rough, but we pulled out a win against a good team on the road. A win’s a win.”

Muschamp said it’s also possible Florida could play two quarterbacks if that gives the team the best chance to win. Driskel has more playing experience and time in the Florida offense, which Muschamp noted wasn’t a knock on Harris, and they’ll try to analyze which is the best route to go at quarterback before hosting LSU next weekend.

“We’re going to do what it takes to win games,” Muschamp said.

Going to Harris was a big part of that on Saturday.

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