Will Grier was showing continued improvement through the first six games of the season and starting to be viewed as one of the top young quarterbacks in the country. And then the suspension news broke.
Handing over the keys of the offense to the backup quarterback could be a problem for some teams, but the Gators think they’ll be fine with Treon Harris taking over as the starter. Grier and Harris battled for the starting job throughout the offseason and split reps during the first two games of the season before Grier took over the full-time job.
Harris still got on the field for a two-point conversion against Ole Miss and had two rushes at Missouri last week. Even though he hasn’t been in the starting role, Florida players have watched Harris prepare the right way as if he would be the starting quarterback.
“He’s stayed with it, and I applaud him for that,” Florida offensive lineman Trip Thurman said. “Some guys would just want to take the back seat, but he’s been in the meeting rooms, he’s been with (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier), meeting with him, working. Even with Grier being the starter the first six games, he’s done well. I’m proud of him.”
Having plays in the game plan for Harris has helped him be locked into the necessary preparation, and the rest of the Florida offense has noticed it.
“He’s preparing every week to play, so he’s a guy that I don’t think there will be much of a drop off,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “He’s a big-time player. To me, there's not much drop off in talent, if there's any. He's going to be prepared and ready to go. He's played in a lot of big games. He's a big-time quarterback.”
The Florida defense was used to carrying the load during the 2014 season, even when Harris started the team’s final six games. However, they’ve seen improvement from him in practice and believe he’s better prepared to help lead the offense this fall.
The Gators have a 5-2 record when Harris starts at quarterback, and that isn’t lost on the players.
“I’ve got 100 percent confidence in Treon,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said. “He came in last year against Tennessee, I think we were down 9-0, he came in and stepped up in a big game. That’s a big atmosphere also and won. I’m not worried about that. I hate it for Will, but we’ve got to move forward and we’ve got to all get behind Treon and rally him up and tell him he’s got our support and the defense is going to be behind the offense no matter what happens Saturday.
“He’s a gamer. He’s showed that, he’s proved it. We all have bad games or whatever, but I have 100 percent confidence in him. I’m not really stressing. I told him today, I tapped him and I’m like, ‘I’m behind you. Let’s go. Take care of the ball and we’re going to be all right.’”
Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis said the competition was so close in the offseason that he was “kind of surprised” that Harris wasn’t starting this fall. The team was surprised and disappointed for Grier about the suspension, but when they remembered back to how impressed they were with Harris in fall camp, they felt better about the future of the offense.
It’s not a secret that the defense will still be what can make the Gators successful this fall. However, the Florida offense will be able to use Harris’ elusiveness outside of the pocket and trust him to run the offense.
“Football is really important to him and more than that, this football team is important to him,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “He did a really good job of when he was in that (backup) role of preparing like a starter. That's what we try to get across. I wish every guy on our team did that because you just never know. You're one play away. In that case, I haven't seen anything different in his preparation, because it's been pretty good."