The book is nowhere near closed on Florida Gators freshman quarterback Treon Harris – there are potentially four years to go and dozens of games yet to be played – but the first chapter has indeed been written and it is one that deserves some acclaim.
Since Harris took over as Florida’s starting signal caller, the Gators are 2-0 with consecutive victories against Southeastern Conference opponents for the first time in a year. They outscored then-No. 11 Georgia and Vanderbilt by a combined 72-30 and only lost one of eight quarters in those contests.
Perhaps most importantly, Harris has shown rare poise for an 18-year-old behind center of one of the most prominent programs in college football, starting the first game of his career in one of the sport’s biggest rivalry games. It is a quality that has not been overlooked by his teammates.
“Before the Georgia game, I was kind of nervous for him, just because it’s a big game. I went up to him and started talking to him, and he’s like ‘I’m ready,’ and I’m like, ‘OK…’ He obviously was,” said sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III after Saturday’s win.
Head coach Will Muschamp, who either had his job saved or his dismissal staved off due in some part to Harris’s play, concurred with his star defensive player.
“What strikes me is his maturity. He does not get phased. He’s been accurate in practice. That’s nothing that shocks me there. The maturity of carrying it to the game has been outstanding,” he said of Harris.
“He’s got a competitive edge about him; that’s a talent. It’s hard to measure competitive edge until you get in those situations, and he has a competitive edge about him. He’s a winner. He played in one of the highest classifications in the state of Florida in high school football, as good as there is in the country. He produced and was productive and won [in high school]. He’s doing the same things now.”
Granted, the Gators have not asked Harris to do what a quarterback usually does most often – throw the ball. In his two starts, Florida has rushed 110 times (60, 50) and attempted 27 passes (6, 21). Muschamp claims UF planned to call more passing plays against UGA, but the game flow did not make it a necessity; Harris did toss thrice as many passes at VU and was just fine doing so.
The key has been Florida putting Harris in opportune positions when it comes to down and distance. He’s had the chance to make smart decisions with the football and done just that outside of two occasions where he took tackles for loss instead of throwing the ball away.
“[We entered the game knowing] we were going to have to take some shots, which we were prepared for last week it just never presented itself,” explained Muschamp, who said UF hopes to do that 8-10 times each week. “We knew Derek [Mason] would challenge us in the front and make us make some things happen in the throwing game. Again, we feel very comfortable in that.”
Indeed, Harris completed two long balls to his wide receivers – redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar caught a 60-yard pass and sophomore Ahmad Fulwood grabbed a 48-yard toss – and finished 13-of-21 for 215 yards. However, he made his greatest impact on the ground, carrying 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns, including a 33-yard scamper that iced the game early in the fourth quarter.
“This game was great for him and definitely got him confident now. He had a great week at practice. This is just great for him on the ground and throwing the ball. He threw a couple shots deep and had no hesitation doing it,” junior running back Matt Jones said.
Described as a “special player” by Hargreaves and an “overly coachable” guy by Muschamp on Saturday night, Harris possesses the most important things a quarterback can have throughout a locker room – trust and belief.
Gators coaches trust Harris to make good decisions, and his teammates believe that he will run the offensive effectively and not put Florida in negative situations.
Sometimes, that can be enough to make a major difference.
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press