How will Gators move forward at quarterback?

By Adam Silverstein
October 5, 2014

Finally, excruciatingly, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp decided enough was enough, and it was time for a change.

After he watched his starting quarterback, redshirt junior Jeff Driskel, combine to go 20-of-51 for 152 yards with one passing touchdown and five interceptions through seven quarters, Muschamp pulled the trigger and inserted true freshman Treon Harris.

The emotional boost was palpable from the field to the crowd and into homes and bars across the country.

“There’s no question that Treon brought some energy to us. The guy’s got a calmness about him, very confident. Very proud of how he responded in this situation,” said Muschamp. He added: “He came in and did an outstanding job and then Kurt [Roper] put him in some good situations. He certainly had a confidence about him that was nice.”

Described by the coaching staff as poised and decisive yet wet behind the ears, Harris finally got his shot on Saturday and responded by leading two scoring drives, the only ones of the day for Florida. The Gators scored 10 unanswered points to end the game despite Harris only throwing four passes (completing two for 17 yards) and carrying the ball four more times for 24 yards.

The intangible impact that Harris made was more important than what he physically accomplished. In fact, he did not do anything Driskel cannot or has not while Driskel has compiled a 14-4 record as a starter. Harris threw one particularly nice swing pass to sophomore running back Matt Jones, made another short throw and tossed a ball down the field that was nearly intercepted.


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It was nevertheless obvious that Florida rallied around the youngster. Even if Harris was not necessarily better on Saturday, he was different, and the Gators’ offense was in desperate need of different after seven-straight quarters of piss-poor offensive football.

“They have a lot of confidence in him. He’s one of those guys that has the ‘it’ factor,” Muschamp said. “He’s a winner. He won at Booker T. [Washington High School] for a bunch of games, no different than Will Grier, no different than other quarterbacks I’ve been around that are guys that have that certain aurora about themselves. We still have a long way to go with everything we’re doing, and we still need to make some tremendous improvements offensively.”

Harris, it now seems, will be part of those improvements that Florida plans to make as it prepares for its next game, a home contest against LSU on Saturday, Oct. 11. Whether Harris starts that game or is the Gators’ primary signal caller during the contest is another question altogether.

“Moving forward, just so I’ll get ahead of your questions, we won’t make any decision on who’s going to start our next ballgame today [on Saturday],” Muschamp stated.

To some, starting Harris may be the no-brainer decision. The fact of the matter, however, is this is not an Ingle Martin-Chris Leak situation for Florida. The Gators have been giving one quarterback, a fourth-year junior, nearly every first-team snap in practice while preparing another, a second-string true freshman, to be his understudy.

Also, while nearly all of Driskel’s mistakes against Alabama three weeks ago were his own, this Saturday at Tennessee, Driskel’s teammates were responsible for many of his perceived miscues.

Two deflections on passes that should have been caught resulted in interceptions. A couple of blown routes and blown protections forced Driskel to tuck the ball and take sacks. He was bad once again on Saturday, missing a number of other throws, but his teammates made the perception of his play much worse.

“It’s not all on Jeff Driskel, and I know that we’ll all write that it is on him. It’s not. We had a coupe protection issues. We had a missed [sigh of disappointment] we checked to a screen on third down and we don’t execute the screen; Jeff Driskel gets splattered. That’s not Jeff Driskel’s fault,” Muschamp explained.

“I’m not defending him. I’m a football coach and there are things that happen 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. That’s part of it. He understands that. He’s mentally as tough as I’ve been around, and he’s going to be fine.

“And if we have to play two quarterbacks moving forward, we will do that. We’re going to do what it takes to win games.”

There it is: the most likely scenario for Florida moving forward – a two-quarterback system. A system that Roper has experienced and coached at numerous stops including last season at Duke. A system that, while not ideal for any team, can help win football games when there are two quarterbacks on the roster that either possess different skill sets or excel on particular types of plays.

Here’s Muschamp, for a second time, making it all-too-clear that full-out benching Driskel for Harris is unlikely to be his decision or solution for the Gators moving forward:

“At the quarterback position, it’s so easy to point the finger and say, ‘It’s all him.’ It’s not all him. We had a couple protection issues; I know for a fact two busted routes. We had some drops again, we had a back-shoulder ball that I thought was very catchable. There were some things in the game that it’s not all on Jeff Driskel. I know we’re all going to load up and point the finger at him. That isn’t right. It’s not right. It’s not accurate. He reads defenses very well. He takes the ball to the right spots. …

“But I felt like we just needed a change of momentum in the game. Turned out it worked for us. Proud of Treon and the way he responded in the game. We need to go back and watch the tape and say, ‘OK, why?’ Sometimes it’s hard when you have an A-gap linebacker running through and your running back, who is supposed to block him, doesn’t. You get in the situation, do you eat the ball or do you put the ball on the money? It’s easy for you and me to be critical, but sometimes it’s hard in that situation.”

Moving forward, at least as far as Florida’s next game is concerned, Harris is much more likely to be used as a momentum-changer and split-starter at quarterback than he is to be a full-out replacement of Driskel at the quarterback position.

Whether it is simply the fact that Harris has been unable to rep a large portion of the playbook or a coaching decision to go with the veteran as the starter and the freshman as a change-of-pace momentum asset, there is nothing out there pointing to Harris immediately taking over for good.

“[Driskel is] a tough guy. He’s also a big-picture guy and understands the game of football. He understands it’s not on his shoulders as far as some of the mistakes that have been made. We just got to tie some things together moving forward that we feel comfortable with and our players feel comfortable with. Kind of like we’ve done defensively. That’s our job as coaches,” explained Muschamp.

In the end, the Gators got the end result they wanted: a victory. How Florida progresses from here will be up to the coaching staff. For at least one day, Harris earned some stripes and plenty of respect. There should be no doubt that he will have the opportunity to pick up some more over the final seven games of the regular season, though how he goes about doing that absolutely remains to be seen.

“Winning on the road and winning an Eastern division opponent and making it 10-in-a-row over Tennessee at the University of Florida, that’s pretty special,” said Muschamp. “That says a lot about our guys coming on the road, perseverance, fighting through the adversity, had a great crowd out there. They were into the game, excited, and it was good to send them home disappointed.”

35 Comments

  1. Dave Massey says:

    I agree that a lot was not Driskel’s fault, but I don’t believe the team, and particularly the offense has the same confidence in him that they do in Harris. It seemed the offense played ‘harder’ when Harris came in. I don’t expect that will change.

    • Razzlegator says:

      If I was HBC and I perceived players were playing ‘harder’ for one QB over the other, I’d run those players out of town on a rail. Play hard every down, every day, or I’ll find somebody that will.

      • 305Gator says:

        Then you would have to get rid of the whole offense because all of them seem to play better with Treon.
        I am through with Driskel, how many more games of 3 and outs, more INTs than TDs, and inability to make a deep throw do you need?
        If Muschamp doesn’t start Harris he is an idiot. If he starts Driskel and doesn’t bring in Harris often, as in the first quarter, then he needs to be fired right now.
        Going back to the end of 2012 in the Georgia game and then the Sugar Bowl game and then in 2013 the Miami game and the pick 6 UT game when he got hurt all those losses were on Driskel and we would have lost to UT last year if he would have remained the QB.
        Hate to say it but Driskel sucks, he has proven that over his past 9 or 10 starts.
        Time to move on.

        • Razzlegator says:

          If we’re going to have a difference of opinion, we should be using the same verbiage. ‘Harder’≠’Better’ and vice versa. If WM starts TH and it goes south, what is your plan B? Just to clear up any confusion, I’m not advocating for JD, but at this point it’s a little premature to anoint TH as the second coming.

          • 305Gator says:

            Treon Harris is plan B. Plan A (Driskel) doesn’t work.
            What happens if Treon starts and “it goes south”, you mean we start losing?
            We stick with Treon and have hope for the future.
            But your question is moot since there is no confidence in Driskel and he has proven he cannot generate any points on a consistent basis.
            If Driskel remains at QB I would expect more of the same. More INTs than TDs. More 3 and outs. More scoreless quarters. More losses. Then Muschamp would lose the team again, just like last year even if for different reasons, and we would really go south.

            • gatorboi352 says:

              I agree with everything 305 has said here. Every sentence.

              “What if we suck under Treon?”

              Well guess what, then we suck, but we’d also be preparing for the FUTURE of this program too. Worst case scenario I’d much rather watch an 18 year old frosh out there mistake it up and learn than Driskel do the same crap he’s been doping for FOUR YEARS (and this, is arguably worst year yet).

              If Muschamp doesn’t start the game with Treon on Saturday, at home, against a floundering LSU (they are extremely average this year at best) then he is missing out on the best opportunity of the season to make this change happen and move this PROGRAM forward.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Amen to that Razzlegator. That’s old school football right there.

        But that would require personal accountability instead of blaming someone else for my poor performance and, unfortunately, that’s not how we roll these days.

    • Basshole says:

      I don’t know if they played ‘harder’ but the tone definitely changed. The offense definitely seemed to have more confidence with Harris back there. I think the rest of the offense feels Harris gives them the best chance to win and if he starts Driskel I am afraid he might lose the locker room (or at least the offense)

    • Oldflyer says:

      Tried to make this point once and it disappeared. I will try again.

      It seems that Dave Massey is suggesting a racial aspect to the QB situation. Eh?

      Video shows that two of Driskel’s ints bounced off of receiver’s hands. Is that, plus the multitude of dropped passes over the first three games, what was meant by the offense playing better for TH?

      I wonder how Driskel became responsible for Bama scoring 42 on the Gator defense; and KU throwing for 400 yds. Was there an individual in that lineup that kept them from playing to their ability?

      I am so pleased that 2 for 4 passing is now the gold standard for Gator QBs. No, actually, I am appalled.

      • Ken (CA) says:

        I get your point, but the arguments you make don’t support it. How can you blame Driskel for Bama putting up 42? Well, if the offense had been on the field in sustained drives, the defense wouldn’t have been on the field all game and gassed. They held it together until midway through the third quarter, then they just had nothing left.

        As far as KU, we haven’t played Kansas this year, although not convinced we would have a solid win against them either.

        2/4 is better than Driskel did, higher percentage, less interceptions. It isn’t a question of “playing harder” or “playing better” for Harris, but I am sure any one of you can come up with multitudes of examples in life and at the job where you are a lot more willing to help and work with someone you have confidence in than someone that you feel is a struggle all the time. That is human nature. Having to fight against your “oh god, not again” mentality to your “yea, this guy is a superstar, always glad when I am teamed with him on a project, I know it will go well”. That is the energy difference. Doesn’t mean they weren’t trying with both, just that confidence can have such a major impact on what is going on.

        And I have tried to be a Driskel supporter, as you have seen up through even UK game. But the accumulation of failure on his part, enough is enough. Someone who consistently plays at a high level and makes good decisions it is easy to forgive a bad decision or wave off an errant pass. Someone who is doing it over and over on the other hand, it just becomes expected.

        It is like umpires in baseball. When a pitcher is consistently hitting his pitches, the umpire gives more latitude to the strike zone, someone who is all over the place is never going to get the benefit of a call.

        • 305Gator says:

          I like the way you put it, ” the accumulation of failure on his part”. That is what we have gotten from Driskel going all the way back to the 2012 Georgia game, the pick 6 on his first pass of the the Sugar Bowl, all the picks in the red zone in the 2013 Miami game, and the pick 6 in last years UT game when he got hurt are the more glaring examples to me. But more than those are the countless possessions, the many drives, the so many quarters of total futility with him at the helm. How many 3 and outs, how many stalled drives and how many scoreless quarters do you need to realize Driskel is not a good QB.
          I bought all the pre season hype that he was going to flourish under the Roper spread system, that for the first time in his career he was in the system best suited for him and all that crap. After 3 games in his “natural” system, not counting the first cupcake, he has sucked and done the same crap as before. He has only played well in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of the UK game, that’s only 2 out of 12 quarters played. We cannot have a guy like that as the leader of our offense, that is why our offense is in the bottom of all relevant stats.
          We need a change to give us a chance the rest of this season.

      • Dave Massey says:

        To suggest that I am trying to make this a racial issue makes you sound like the racist. I even said in other posts that Harris did nothing spectacular. Driskel has not gotten the job done and it was time for a change and Harris did get the job done when he came in. I don’t see where the color of anybody’s skin had anything to do with it other than in your mind. Clearly I am not the only one that felt this way about the situation.

      • Michael Jones says:

        I didn’t read racism into Dave’s comment. I also believe that we have good kids in our program who would never let the race of our QB factor into how hard they play.

        As I’ve said, I like Treon’s quick thinking, his decisiveness (which gets the ball out early and will. make him hard to sack), accuracy and his soft catchable ball. People tend to fall in love with arm strength–of which Driskel has plenty–but accuracy is more important. Treon is quick, Driskel is strong, and they are both fast, so for me, the running element is a wash.

        One thing that did jump out to me on Treon’s first pass–the counter action with a nice easy short wheel route to a wide-open Matt Jones was: nice call, where has that been?

        Driskel has been poorly coached, too many OC’s, too many different systems, and, for whatever reason, he continues to look befuddled back there. The good ones, guys like Manziel and Bridgewater, look calm and composed. Driskel looks confused. Have his teammates helped him out? No, not really.

        All that said, I don’t see how we don’t go forward with Treon. The kid looks pretty special. As for Driskel, maybe if he takes a break and gathers himself, he may come back sometime later in the season if needed (hopefully not because Treon’s injured) and lead us to a big victory. He’s done it before.

  2. UFGATORFAN100 says:

    Living in Miami I saw Tron Harris play many games for Booker T. Washington LIVE…. He”s got the IT Factor, Calm,and Leadership Personality that you want from your QB He WON 2 National Championships in HS Plus State Titles. Also, 2 Years in a Row Undefeated Seasons….

    PS We have a Fourth Year Junior who plays like a Freshman
    We have a Freshman who plays like a Junior….. What did through 3 Quarters did the Junior give US compared to Freshman give US = WIN…. GO GATORS!!!! Harris should get ALL First Team Snaps. We have 2 very Winnable Games at Home then BYE before WLOCP…. Plenty of Time IF Harris is given a SHOT and Allowed to Learn more of Playbook…. What do you GUYS Think?

    • Razzlegator says:

      What’s your plan B ‘if’ Treon gets rattled or hurt? Bring in the guy you benched? At this point in his career it’s better for Treon, and the Gators, to be the plan B. (IMO)

  3. Champ supporter says:

    I can appreciate that you protect your players by not blaming them, but it does not hide the fact that Florida has not been very productive lately with Driskell. Whether it is his fault or not, he is the QB and ultimately responsible for how the offense operates. Driskell just seems to be missing the “it” that most QBs have that helps inspire their teams to win. Treon can’t possible do any worse. He would have an excuse for mistakes. I do not believe Driskell does. Yeah I know he has had different OCs, but wasn’t he supposed to be comfortable this year because we have an offense that fits his skill set???

    • Ken (CA) says:

      And yet you continue to support the guy who wants to keep playing him and making excuses for him (and how many years does Driskel have to be here before you finally stop spelling it Driskell?)

      • 305Gator says:

        I’m too getting tired of Muschamp protecting Driskel, how about putting the team first and giving us the best opportunity to win. That would be Treon Harris.
        That’s another Muschamp line that bothers me, if Driskel is the best chance we have of winning then we are royaly screwed. The fans can see it, the TV commentators can see it, the sports writers can see it, how come the darned HC is so pig headed and blind?

        • Ken (CA) says:

          The scary thing is that if WM is correct and he gives us the best opportunity to win we are in real trouble. As far as “the fans can see it” we are mostly not experts and easily disgruntled, but when the analysts and so many ex-players who do know how it all works are all universally saying the same thing (and players virtually never speak up as part of their “code”) then there has to be something legitimate to it all

    • 305Gator says:

      Aree with you, Driskel needs to go play baseball.

    • G2 says:

      Good point. For whatever reason Treon got us 10 points in 1 quarter, JD 0 points in 3 quarters. Thats the way things go sometime, you just have to catch lightening in a bottle whenever you can!

      It would be crazy not to insert him as starter at this point. The offense was anemic until he showed up. Don’t know whats wrong with Jeff but doesn’t seem to be able to throw down-field (more than 10 yards). One thing I have noticed is Jeff throws a fastball even on short routes (deflections turn into picks), Treon has more touch on his passes, easier to catch?

  4. 1955Gator says:

    If Coach Muschamp comes out Tuesday or Wednesday and says Harris will be the starter, the Swamp will be electric on Saturday night. People will want to believe again.
    If he announces Driskel the starter or waits until kickoff to announce it, everyone will be waiting for something bad to happen. It could also be ugly with boos coming at the first interception everyone is expecting.
    I think he will continue with Driskel. Not going to work.

  5. kaput says:

    Driskel is dreadful. He’s been dreadful, he is dreadful and he will be dreadful – he’s not a good quarterback, and that’s not going to change. I think he’s a good dude, but what does that matter? I want results!

    Harris may be ‘wet behind the ears,’ but he has an upside that Driskel doesn’t – and if you can’t see that, I don’t know what to tell you. It may make you feel considered and reasoned to play the wait and see game, but it’s doesn’t actually make you those things.

    The team doesn’t play well for Driskel, and in turn he doesn’t play well for them. It may or may not be his fault, but at this point fault is irrelevant – results are all that matters.

  6. SW FL Joe says:

    Harris starts and we run the Wild Driskat as a change of pace

    • Michael Jones says:

      Ha ha. . love it. Actually, Driskel has legitimate fullback strength and the idea of bringing him in as a power runner for short yardage who could also drop back and pass isn’t a bad idea.

      Which brings me to Hunter Joyer. . how do these guys continue to disappear in Muschamp’s system? Has to be hard on the kids who have real talent, train hard, practice hard, but don’t get in the game.

      • gatorboi352 says:

        “how do these guys continue to disappear in Muschamp’s system?”

        EXACTLY.

        If it were one or two guys over Muschamp’s tenure, I’d simply dismiss it. But this seems to be quite the trend under Muschamp. Guys just fizzling out and disappearing for whatever reason.

      • 5wideU says:

        Joyer has disappeared this year because we no longer use a FB in Roper’s offense and he doesn’t fit in any other position. Pretty easy to answer that one.

        • Michael Jones says:

          Joyer is a running back who happens to play fullback because he’s thick and can block. He’s explosive, quicker than he looks and has good feet (sort of like a poor man’s Mike Alstott). He could help this offense running the ball. Especially an offensive system that takes pride in being able to adjust/modify to fit the available talent.

          Joyer is available talent. Check out some of his runs as a true freshman. He could help us.

          But if you’re right about fullbacks having no place in this system (which I don’t buy because there are too many hybrid backfield positions in this offense that use a fullback/tight end-type), then don’t terminate their playing careers. . . give’em an opportunity to move on to a program where they can play. They didn’t sign on for that.

  7. Dave K says:

    Some highly rated high school QB’s, who are fine athletes and young men of good character, get recruited to high profile college programs like Florida. They practice great because they’re above average athletes and are smart enough to learn the complexities of college level playbooks. But when the heat is ON and the game is BIG, they get rattled…and their ‘courage under fire’ wilts to a point where ‘thinking calmly’ and making quick, rational decisions slips away from them. They are still terrific young men with great things coming to them in their future…but not as Quarterbacks playing on the big stage…here in college, or in the pros. Two of these fine people have been in our program recently: Jeff Driskel is one and the other is John Brantley. I love them for their effort and dedication to Florida, but leading the Gators is not the best place for them. I know this first hand because it’s exactly what happened to me some years ago. I’m great at what I do now…and it ain’t playing professional football. 🙂

    • Michael Jones says:

      That’s a pretty good comment, Dave K. Have to agree with what you said. I think you kind of captured it.

    • 5wideU says:

      Agree Dave 100%. Jeff appears to have all the tools but it just doesn’t come together when the lights come on. Some guys look all-world in practice and just can’t replicate it in games. Some guys look like crap in practice but become superstars when it counts.

      Jeff has been given a bad lot (3 OC’s in 4 years) and it’s not all his fault but he should be playing much better at this stage and he’s not.

  8. Donnie Wise says:

    Dave K, you nailed it on your statement regarding the ability of some kids to play up to there potential in big moments. Both Brantley and Driskel were highly sought after recruits. Both came to UF with lofty expectations. Both will leave with unfulfilled goals. Is it there fault? To a point but I think that the reality of it lies in where and who they play in high school to put up these outlandish numbers which lead recruiting services to announce them as world beaters. If you put Oviedo up against booker T on a neutral field booker would woodshed them 10 out of 10 times. The competition is much higher and quality of opponent much greater playing in BTW’s program. To add to all of this lets not forget Harris has been groomed for years by his father for this very stage. He’s the son of a coach who’s grandfather also just happens to be a coach. I think personally that Harris is going to be a amazing player for us. If that starts Saturday then great. If he’s a change of pace guy that gets us wins that’s cool too. But at the end of the day one thing should be super clear to the football universe at this point. Jeff Driskel doesn’t have that killer instinct that all great leaders have naturally. He’s a good guy yes but sometimes that’s just not good enough to be a leader.

  9. SW FL Joe says:

    Looks like its Driskel’s show now. Damn Muschamp just can’t buy a break

  10. Joe says:

    Watch Senior HS video of both. It’s simple to see why Treon would succeed over Jeff in regard to understanding passing offenses and handling extreme pressure with effective downfield passing. Simply put Treon has swagger when he plays, comfort control and confidence. He is clearly determined to win when he is behind center. It’s something that comes from competing against the best and winning under pressure. He is the future and the future should start this weekend against LSU.

    • Joe says:

      Forgot to mention that it is also definitely clear that our team sees these positive characteristics and believe in him. This IMO is the dagger in Jeff’s case for being starting QB. How could you feasibly not go with Treon after seeing their response and his demeanor?

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