While Will Grier is suspended for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, Florida will have to lean on sophomore Treon Harris at quarterback. Grier was gaining confidence in the Florida offense and showing signs of growth, but he is not eligible to return until the seventh game of the 2016 season, pending an appeal that the university will file.
The two battled for the quarterback job during the offseason and split reps during the first two games against New Mexico State and East Carolina. However, Grier won the job and Harris only played in games against Ole Miss and Missouri in complementary roles.
“We were putting things in for him as we kind of go,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “He’s been doing a great job in practice. As you know going into this, I felt that we’ve had two really good quarterbacks. Now it’s Treon’s opportunity to take the reins and run with it. He’ll do a great job.”
Grier met with the Florida team before both him and McElwain spoke to the media at 2:30 p.m. on Monday. His emotional apology to the team was met with hugs from the Florida players, but McElwain said the redshirt freshman also told his teammates that they should look at this as a “next man up” situation.
That puts Harris into the fire as the team’s only scholarship quarterback with experience at Florida. Josh Grady, a post-graduate transfer who split time at receiver and quarterback at Vanderbilt, will serve as Florida’s backup on Saturday at LSU.
Harris started the final six games of the last season and led the Gators to a 4-2 record. He completed 49.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,019 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions, adding 338 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. His elusiveness in the open field and in the pocket adds a new element to the Florida offense.
“(Harris has) been practicing all the same stuff and obviously he has a different skill set,” McElwain said. “He can do some things with his feet that are different and he’s done a good job of extending when he’s in there. I know this: (LSU will) have all their bases covered knowing what we’ve done in the past situations with whatever types of quarterbacks we’ve had. It’ll be fun.”
McElwain emphasized on Monday that the offensive staff believed in the offseason that they had two quality quarterbacks and that’s why they allowed the competition to play out for as long as it did. Harris will be tested in a hostile road environment on Saturday in front of more than 102,000 people.
“This is not an excuse,” McElwain said. “It happened. Things happen in life, and if you want to use it as an excuse, so be it. But that’s not what we’re going to do. I’m going to go in, we’re going to have a great week of practice, we’re going to go play our tails off against one of the best teams in the country on their turf, and this ought to be a blast, man. This out to be a celebration, this game, for what this is all about. This is fun. This is why we do it. If you don’t like this, get out of it, man. Do something else right?”
Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison was down on the field Saturday, but McElwain said it was just cramps. Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley was also injured at Missouri but it isn’t serious and he will practice Monday.
The only player that will miss practice on Monday with an injury from the Missouri win is defensive tackle Joey Ivie, who “did something to his stomach muscles.”
Running back Kelvin Taylor sprained his ankle but will practice. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway had a bruise in his leg but will also practice.
Tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) will be looked at on Tuesday to make a final decision, but McElwain said he felt “pretty good” about the tight end returning to face LSU on Saturday.
“I feel pretty good about him being able to come back, which will really help us,” McElwain said.