The stat line for Treon Harris reads as follows: 2/4, 17 yards; 4 carries, 24 yards. Hardly overwhelming, maybe even underwhelming considering his college debut against Eastern Michigan.
However, Harris provided something beyond the numbers — a spark to a Florida Gators team on the ropes at Tennessee.
On the road in Knoxville, the Gators were in hostile territory and facing a Volunteer team hungry to break a nine-game losing streak to Florida. The Gators offense was stagnant through the first three quarters, and the longer the team struggled moving the ball, the stronger the calls for Harris became.
After a strip fumble recovery by defensive back Jalen Tabor gave the Gators field position at Tennessee 30-yard-line, Will Muschamp pulled the trigger.
Weeks of posts and pleas from Gator Nation came to this. With 19 seconds left in the third quarter, the Treon Harris era began.
Florida replaced Jeff Driskel with Harris and immediately the change in momentum was felt. The offense moved more freely and effectively, moving down the field via short passes and the run. Moving down the field, the Gators would cap off a five-play, 30-yard drive with a Matt Jones touchdown run. The running back noticed the difference in the huddle with Harris.
“He doesn’t seem like a freshman,” said Jones. “I mean, he’s calm and relaxed. He plays like he’s a senior. Well not a senior, I wouldn’t say, but he played like he had a couple years of experience. He’s great with the ball in his hands.”
Harris’ dynamic and willing ability to run added a different dimension to the offense and opened up things even more for Jones, who finished with 114 yards. In the few passing attempts Harris had, the freshman didn’t play outside himself, focusing on moving the chains and picking up two first downs. The ability to move the chains put pressure on a Tennessee defense that had had success throughout the day.
“Having a mobile quarterback created more gaps with the running back lead blocking,” Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt said. “Guys had to get off the blocks, making plays. It was a change of pace for us, definitely.”
Along with his abilities on the field adding a different dimension to the team, the offense was focused on helping Harris. Offensive lineman D.J. Humprhies said Driskel would be able to see plays quicker than the inexperienced freshman, so they wanted to put Harris in the best position to succeed.
“Yeah, it’s a big difference from having a guy that’s been there and a guy that hasn’t, Humphries said. “You know what I mean? It’s a little bit of anxiousness, we’ve got to protect him more, so he can actually see stuff.”
Florida’s victory at Tennessee wasn’t a pretty game, but it was an effective and poignant one sparked by a freshman quarterback. Harris’ impact wasn’t felt in the stat column, but in the morale of the team and momentum of the game. What started out as a move to get things going offensively may end up being symbolic of what is to come for the Florida Gators.