Florida-Missouri Preview: A winnable must win, and the key to win is Treon Harris

This isn’t the first time I’ve said this, but it remains just as true today as it was when I said it before the Tennessee game: Will Muschamp’s team needs to win tomorrow in order for him to keep his job. That’s it, I’m just cutting to the chase and letting fly.

The good news for Muschamp is that Missouri happens to be very beatable.

Let’s start up front. Florida’s offensive line vs. Missouri’s defensive front seven is about the only battle I can see Florida easily losing. The Tigers employ two nasty defensive ends in Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Each of them defines the term “speed rusher” because… well, they’ve got speed. On the contrary, Florida’s offensive line (while it has improved somewhat) is still full of question marks. So this is going to be a challenge, and I accept that.

But in just about every other matchup that you’ll see, I believe Florida has the upper hand. Maty Mauk threw four picks against Georgia last week, and most of them were forced. He also lost a fumble when Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd chopped down on hiss arm as he released the ball, knocking it out of his grip. Granted, that was the worst Mauk has ever played in his career. But that’s also his most recent performance, and that was at home against a Georgia front seven that isn’t horrible… but isn’t nearly as good as Florida’s. So you get where I’m going with this; Florida’s front should have its way with Missouri’s line.

Getting to Mauk kills the entire offense. There’s a lot of speed in their skill position depth chart between Marcus Murphy, Russell Hansbrough, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, but get enough pressure on Maty Mauk to force some mistakes and it all becomes irrelevant.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s a little tricky. Mizzou has given up an average of 190 yards on the ground in their last three games (to Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana) but has done pretty well against the pass. Of course, Florida’s strength on offense is running the ball, so that seems like a good thing. But as long as Jeff Driskel remains in the game, that’s all Florida can really do to hurt Mizzou, and Gary Pinkel knows that. So the Tigers are going to stack the box and take away the holes and dare Driskel to beat the through the air.

That leads me to my next point: I don’t believe Florida can win the game if Jeff Driskel plays most of it. I’m sorry, Driskel supporters; he seems like a nice kid who works hard and does what he’s supposed to, but he’s simply not an adequate Florida Gators QB. We’ve been through that time and again.

See, this is what happens when you force Driskel to throw the ball. The results are very, very bad. That ends that discussion. Or it should, anyway. Take the hint, Muschamp.

Now, am I saying that Treon Harris is going to come in and put up Sam Bradford (at Oklahoma) numbers? No. But the fact is, we don’t know what he’s capable of. That’s a double edged sword, I know. But at least with Harris, there’s the possibility of improvement even if he struggles mightily. And hey, we don’t know for a fact that he will struggle, while with Driskel… well, that’s really all he’s done throughout his Gators career. With Driskel, we know exactly what we’re going to get: a run heavy offense that tries to beat Missouri three yards at a time, bad decisions and miscommunications and drives that end with one first down at most, which will gas our defense and allow Mizzou’s speed to tear up and down the field.

The sad thing is, with Driskel in the game, the offense reminds me almost of the putrid grunt and punt “offense”- and putting quotations around that word doesn’t even begin to describe how loosely it’s used- run by Steve Addazio. A Driskel led offense carries approximately zero threat of beating a team deep, just like the Addazio offense. A Driskel led offense cannot be counted on to generate more than one touchdown a game against a legitimate team, just like the Addazio offense. The only major difference is that Driskel is a legitimate running threat, but in a way, that’s even worse. Now the defense knows that there’s no chance the ball is going to be thrown more than 15 yards down the field, so that’s what they defend; the same minuscule percentage of the field that the offense operates on. And with that knowledge that there’s only a small portion of the field that they have to defend, the offense will flounder. Book it.

Meanwhile, with Treon Harris in at QB, things are a little different. Put bluntly, the offense will function better than it does with Driskel by default. It can’t possibly be any worse… wait, why am I saying that? We saw what happened to the offense when Harris got the reins against Tennessee; it wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Gears were grinding. Chains were moving. Tennessee actually had to play defense, and the shock that came with that fact was too much for them to overcome as Florida scored 10 fourth quarter points. Maybe it’s because the defense respects his throwing ability, or maybe it’s just because his refreshing presence puts a charge into the entire offense. But we saw the Tennessee game. Three quarters of ineptitude, and then one quarter that was far from perfect, but seemed Tebow-ean by comparison. Missouri will have to back off with Harris in the game because he has proven that he can throw the deep ball, which will open up running holes… and then the offense will function the way Gator fans would love it to. Or at least closer to that point.

So, Muschamp: I BEG OF YOU. PLEASE don’t leave Driskel in too long. You really can’t afford it. In case you’ve forgotten, your job security is on life support. But as much as I doubt you’re the long term answer as our head coach, I want to see my Gators win every game. And the truth is, winning the SEC East, weak as it is, may not be doable. I think the Gators will have a tough time with Georgia, Gurley or no Gurley. So I really don’t know if this team is capable of winning the East. But they can beat Missouri. And they have ‘to for you, Muschamp to keep your job.

Now; will it happen? I say no. Penalties, turnovers, and just a general high level of overall ineptitude have been what we’ve come to know Muschamp’s teams’ identities to be. With no reason to believe it won’t happen again based on three and a half years of screwing around, I’ll predict the worst showing yet. Go big or go home, right? Well, here’s betting the Gators lay the biggest egg of all tomorrow night. I’d love to be wrong, but I’ve got this sickening feeling that we’re in for a letdown after what many actually considered to be a good performance against LSU.

And the only conceivable way it won’t happen is with Harris leading the offense. So do your part, Muschamp, and play him as much as you can.

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