By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
I have to admit, as I sat in front of my television on Saturday, I was sweating bullets. For the first time in a decade, I honestly thought Tennessee was going to defeat Florida. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind.
The product that the Gators’ offense put on the field in the first half was, for a lack of a better word, atrocious. Actually, that’s the right word: atrocious.
For some reason Jeff Driskel, a redshirt junior in his third year as Florida’s starter, is regressing. He has made plenty of mistakes in his career, but Driskel has also helped the Gators win plenty of football games. Now the team is simply rudderless with him in the game. Despite all that, he is not playing as poorly as everyone insists. Yes, Driskel is playing with very little confidence; considering that Gator Nation goes on endlessly about his performance and demands his benching, you can probably understand why he is having some mental struggles.
It also needs to be made quite clear that the skill players around Driskel are not making life any easier. The simplest thing to do is blame the quarterback for the offense’s problems, but he cannot control receivers dropping the ball or running the wrong routes, or the offensive line blocking in the wrong protection scheme. These issues all affect his – and the offense’s – performance just as much as Driskel’s mental lapses.
Of course, we all got our first taste of what Treon Harris can do, and at first glance, he appears to be the Gators’ latest version of “instant offense.” I wish I could draw a more direct comparison between Driskel-Harris and Chris Leak-Tim Tebow from 2006, but obviously Driskel is not producing like Leak and no one in their right mind would link up Harris’s limited action to Tebow’s tremendous success as a freshman. However, it is noticeable that Harris energizes the offense very much the same way Tebow did when he would jump into the game during that national championship season.
Florida was sluggish with Driskel in the shotgun for three quarters and did not put a single point on the board; Harris entered to a hero’s ovation and, well, he delivered. To be completely honest, I expected him to fail, not due to lack of belief in his talent but because of his experience and the circumstance. Will Muschamp put a true freshman in the game at quarterback with less than 15 minutes, following a key turnover, on the road in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in the Southeastern Conference. That’s not exactly a recipe for success.
As Adam alluded to in his post-game story on the quarterback situation, Harris did not play well; he was about average. But, he didn’t make any mistakes and was able to convert a couple key plays when they were needed the most. Whether Driskel had been a victim of circumstance or Harris a culprit of opportunity, Harris got the job done…and now the Gators have a legitimate quarterback controversy on their hands.
[Editor’s Note: This week’s edition of Snell’s Slant was written prior to Harris’s off-the-field incident becoming public knowledge. Therefore, his opinions on the quarterback situation are based purely on talent and potential, not ability to see the field as Harris is currently indefinitely suspended from the program.]
Harris has proven Muschamp’s long-held statement – that Driskel gives Florida its “best chance to win” – to be at least somewhat incorrect, and he is no longer an unknown commodity as a player. Unproven, yes; unknown, no. Remember, this kid is still a freshman. He has not been on the field as a starter nor has he played a team that has schemed against his specific talents and abilities.
Onto the defense. Wow.
The Gators were so dominant defensively that the closest comparison I can draw in terms of effectiveness is what that unit did to LSU back in 2012. When you consider how much NFL talent was on that team – and how poor UF’s secondary played against Kentucky and Alabama – that is saying something.
Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin have received more than their fair share of well-deserved crap this season, but what these two did to fix – whether with a Band-Aid or cement remains to be seen – the defense is praiseworthy. And before you bust on Tennessee’s offense, realize that unit put up 32 points against Georgia.
Saturday’s defensive performance proved how effective the Gators can be when they avoid numerous mental mistakes. Sure, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole each had their issues once again, but those miscues can be overlooked when the end result is a first down and not a busted coverage for a touchdown.
Florida’s pass rush also helped clear up some of the secondary’s minor mistakes with Bryan Cox Jr. finally showing up. And not only did he show up, he kicked the damn door off the hinges. Not only did he register three sacks, Cox played exceedingly well against the run. I’m sure his dad is proud of what his son did on Saturday, because I know I am.
LSU is as important a game as UF will have this season. The Tigers are surprisingly at the bottom of a loaded SEC West, and the Gators are somehow in a dogfight atop the SEC East. Florida can still accomplish all of its goals this season, but with multiple exceptionally-tough games against ranked opponents upcoming, it needs to take care of every opponent that it has a more than 50-50 chance of defeating.
Whatever the case, it continues to be an interesting season for these Gators.
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his third year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2014 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.