The post game scene was all too familiar.
A week of crazy hype and confidence among Gator fans as the countdown to Saturday began. A night game in the Swamp and promises that the stadium would be “lit.” And belief that this time, as opposed to the ever-growing list of similarly situated games that didn’t pan out so well, the Gators would win.
But like so many times before, an ugly offensive showing- and that’s putting it mildly- kept Florida from having any chance in a game they ultimately lost to archival FSU, 27-2.
And so once again, the Gators watched glumly as an opponent jumped up and down, whooped and hollered, and celebrated a big win in the Swamp. Fans poured out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in droves, knowing full well that another highly promising season was reduced to one consisting of some nice moments here and there but an overall sense of failure, and that there was more to be accomplished that wasn’t. And all that was left when the clock hit zero was the other team’s fight song and devastating thoughts about what could have been if only this Gator team had a decent quarterback.
The only difference this time around is that Florida’s season can still end in a championship. The Gators face #2 Alabama in this season’s SEC Title Game. But the moments of glory that earned Florida a spot there in the first place seem like distant memories now, as this season has begun to spin out of control with the finish line fast approaching.
In his last two years at Florida, Will Muschamp went 10-13, including a loss to Georgia Southern in the Swamp. Even when the Gators didn’t lose games they shouldn’t have, they simply looked awful on offense, relying time and again on the defense to bail them out in crunch time. Scheduled patsies like Bowling Green, Furman, Jacksonville State and Louisiana had no business even being in a game with the mighty Gators, yet all hung around until the fourth quarter. Florida hasn’t just become known for losing a lot of games under Muschamp, they’ve become known for employing a wholly unwatchable football team because the offense is so bad it’s a detriment to nearby inanimate objects.
And despite a year filled with hope, Saturday night became the most recent example of frustration, the latest display of offensive ineptitude, and the newest installation of “Muschamp football.” There may be plenty of hope that the Muschamp football is on its way out, along with plausible reasons to actually believe it, but until Treon Harris is off the field and on the bench where he belongs, we’re stuck with it. And while the pure fire from the last two years may be lacking behind this statement, you’re damned right Muschamp is to blame for this FSU disaster. He left Florida’s offense in shambles with just six scholarship offensive linemen, one running back of decent caliber and one quarterback of decent caliber for McElwain to work with. And when that quarterback, Will Grier, was suspended for PEDs, Florida was dumped right back in the same boat they were in with Muschamp; the lack of a real quarterback under center causes them to consistently flirt with utter catastrophe, and sure enough, playing Muschamp football one too many times caught up with them.
Joining the ranks of Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt, LSU, Missouri and South Carolina in the category of “gruesome home losses” is an utterly disgraceful defeat to an FSU team that didn’t even have to do anything to win other than sit back and wait for good field position. The Seminoles gained a paltry 162 yards of total offense up until the 7:46 mark in the fourth quarter. Most Division I offenses are good enough to make a team pay for that. But not Florida’s. Specifically, not an offense led by Treon Harris, who had his most horrendous game in a Gator career filled with them.
After the latest display of inaccuracy and awful decision making, I thought long and hard how I wanted to deal with Harris in my post game article. There is no longer any adequate defense of Harris, so I can’t really debate that point. Dozens of fans on twitter and Facebook have called for me to write a tremendously long article berating him for a whole number of things, and I truly did consider that. I also thought about writing a play-by-play analysis of him on every offensive snap; I forced myself to wait two days and re-watch every offensive snap. I got as far as the play where Harris overthrew a wide open Antonio Callaway in the end zone and then calmly clicked off the screen and shrugged. I expected to feel anger, dismay or even disbelief, but I felt nothing. As if I expected it.
So you know what? I’m done criticizing Treon Harris. I’m just going to use this platform I have to call for Josh Grady to start the next two games. And spare me the theatrics of how I or anyone else saying this isn’t a Gator fan, or that Grady couldn’t see playing time at Vanderbilt. Simple words do not describe how harmful Harris is to this Gator football team, and while “he can’t do worse” generally reeks of desperation as an argument to start another player… I refuse to believe an offense led by Grady can possibly be as bad as one led by Harris.
There are dozens of other players at other positions who do their very best every day in practice, all with the common goal of making the Florida Gator football program the best it can be. Playing Harris at quarterback again after the FSU game not only goes directly against that goal, but seems like a giant middle finger toward all those who fight for it. The principle is exactly the same as it was when I was calling for Muschamp to get fired last year. Grady probably isn’t going to step onto the field in Atlanta and throw for 410 yards and five touchdowns, but we don’t know that because we haven’t tried it; what we do know is that not only is Harris a miserable excuse for a quarterback, his mere presence on a football field has an alarmingly negative impact on the team’s overall performance.
As long as Harris is the QB, Florida’s defense has been, is and will be consistently flung back out onto the field in an unwinnable situation. “What’s the point of even trying?” is never the right attitude, but it’s a totally fair question for these defensive starters and key reserves. Seeing Harris mismanage the offense every time he steps on the field has slowly sapped the energy right out of the defense, until eventually the “bend but don’t break” unit finally broke.
No matter how many punts Geoff Collins’ defense forced, Harris and the offense would just give it right back to Sean Maguire. Harris would do it all: miss open receivers, step up into the pocket and into a sack, try to run around the backfield and into more trouble and fling wounded ducks in the general area of a teammate that had no chance of being completed. Given that FSU has a dangerous runner in Dalvin Cook, the outcome was inevitable. The only surprise was that it took 52 minutes before Cook exploded for a big run. Of course, one good run deserves another, and the 13-2 late fourth quarter deficit turned into 27-2 in the blink of an eye. Cook’s late game rampage consisted of 112 yards in the final 7:46, and included two touchdowns- the first of which sent the fans heading home.
And I feel awful for those other players. Think about it. They just lost a rivalry game knowing it really wasn’t their faults, and now they head into the SEC Championship Game knowing full well in the backs of their heads that even if they do the best they possibly can do on the biggest stage of their lives, their quarterback will more likely than not let them down once again and their efforts will be wasted. That’s got to be the worst feeling an athlete can ever have- that even if you do all you are physically capable of, even if you play every play perfectly, another player on your team is going to have such a fatal influence on the game that you still won’t be able to win.
The good news is that we as Gator fans appear to be through with having to watch this very soon. UF just grabbed Feleipe Franks from LSU, and Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio will be available next year. Those two can duke it out for the starting job next year, and the right to compete with Will Grier once he returns from his suspension. And beyond that, Florida already has a commitment from prized 2017 QB Jake Allen, so the distant future looks pretty bright, too.
For the next two games, though, Florida just has to get by with Harris. But let’s remind ourselves what those next two games are: an SEC Championship and a major bowl game- two stages the Gators have seldom been to since the departure of Tim Tebow. Getting to grumble about what will happen in those games is admittedly a much better feeling than not getting to be in them at all.
That’s a testament to Jim McElwain. He guided the shattered remains of the program Muschamp broke to its first SEC East title in six years. Just imagine what he can do with a team of his own players/a Division I quarterback. The sky’s the limit for McElwain’s Gators, but as the rapid ascension continues, we may have to hit some storm clouds en route to it.