The Florida Gators entered the month of November on a high. The losses of Will Grier and a game in Baton Rouge were distant memories after a Halloween beat down of Georgia, 27-3, in Jacksonville.
“They always remember what you do in November,” former Arkansas coach Frank Boyles once said. For the Gators’ offense, November is a month that they wish they didn’t remember.
Led by Treon Harris, the Gators put up 55 points in the month of November and just 48 points in regulation.
As with any struggling offense the blame has been placed, rather poured, on the shoulders of starting quarterback Treon Harris. Quarterback is the most high profile position in sports and quarterbacks routinely get credit for wins and losses, a team stat. The Gators may have navigated through the month with a 3-1 record, but the offense has looked worse and worse and the season has moved along.
Harris may be the first person to tell you that he hasn’t played his best football. This is a kid who didn’t lose a game as a starter in high school. He’s won at every level throughout his football career and has never had to deal with what he’s going through personally as a player or as a member of a team.
“That’s too bad. Part of that, you need to look a little bit at me and what I’m asking him to do as well, and trying to push the envelope a little bit,” Jim McElwain said. “That’s how we’re going to be offensively as we continue to grow. He’s probably handled and done as good a job with his skill set, as far as helping some of those things moving forward.”
Harris is a spread option quarterback; it’s what he’s always done. His biggest asset growing up was his speed and running ability. In high school he could make people miss, dancing around tackles with an effortless grace. At the college level, everyone is bigger and faster, he can’t avoid them anymore and the more tape teams get on him, the more they will take away what he does best and force him to find other ways to beat them. Florida State left talented freshman safety Derwin James down in the box as a spy on Harris for much of the game. Harris had 11 carries for negative five yards, much of that coming from four Seminole sacks that added up to a loss of 32 yards.
With teams leaving players to spy on Harris to make sure he stays in the pocket to throw the question has been brought up as to why McElwain and Doug Nussmeier haven’t used more read-option with their quarterback. It’s something Harris is familiar with, and something he has had success doing at every level he’s played.
The answer is never as simple as it seems. “We’re not real deep at that position,” said McElwain.
Behind Harris is Vanderbilt transfer Josh Grady, a player who was moved back and forth from quarterback to receiver during his four years in Nashville. Jacob Guy, who has never taken a snap in his career, sits third on the depth chart.
Since McElwain was hired, the fan base has been firmly in his corner. McElwain is a talented offensive mind and he took over the job with complete confidence, trust and support of the Gator Nation. Four games in November have fans questioning McElwain. Why has Harris been allowed to continue paying quarterback? Surely there is a better option and there are better options. Will Grier is a better option, but he’s ineligible until October of 2016. Luke Del Rio is a better option, he walked into the stadium in jeans and a blue Gators shirt last Saturday, sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
McElwain is a proud coach. He knows offense, knows that his offense has gone from purring down the highway at full speed to bouncing along on four flat tires. If there was a move to be made at quarterback it would have been made already.
By his own admission, McElwain hasn’t used Harris how he should. Treon Harris isn’t a drop back passer. He’s not going to read a zone defense, dissect it, and pick teams apart with his arm. He’s a player who needs to be allowed to run; it’s a part of his game that softens up defenses, which in turn hides the deficiencies he has as a passer.
When November began Florida was still making a run at the SEC East and, potentially, a ticket to the College Football Playoff, McElwain was handcuffed. Harris was his best option at quarterback and he couldn’t afford to lose him. That meant protecting Harris, which, in turn, took away Harris’ best weapon. It’s a cut off your nose to spite your face situation.
That changes this week. Florida will play on December 5, and then won’t have another game until a likely berth into the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. It’s the proverbial “no tomorrow” situation. One analyst on ESPN said Nick Saban has a better chance of getting lost on his way home in Tuscaloosa than he does of losing to Florida on Saturday, but Alabama has been susceptible to running quarterbacks.
“If you look at the couple games they’ve lost over the last, here’s the interesting thing; you know, A&M has this Manziel guy and they hit some trick plays and they beat them,” McElwain said. “Ole Miss got them with, what, five turnovers and every possession was inside the 30-yard line it seemed like. [Bama] still had a chance of beating them. You look at what Oklahoma did, they tempo’d them and their quarterback was unbelievable that day. Ohio State, I guess when you look at what they did against them, those were all common denominator, running quarterbacks, wildcat stuff.”
This week Florida is the second biggest underdog in the history of the SEC Championship game. Harris remains the best option at quarterback, now it’s up to the coaching staff to design a gameplan where he can be successful. It’s no easy task when you’re going up against the nation’s No. 2 total defense.
“We’ll put something together to hopefully at least make them think,” McElwain said. “My biggest thing is I just hope they come away scratching their heads and say, ‘that was cute.’”