2015 Gator football: a tale of two teams, the first of which provides hope

Late in the SEC Championship Game with a 29-7 lead, Nick Saban saw the last sequence he ever expected unfold before his eyes: a bomb from the arm of Treon Harris, launched from the midfield line, was hauled in by CJ Worton for a 46 yard touchdown.

Of course, that play mattered not the least in the grand scheme of things. Alabama still had a two touchdown lead with under five minutes to go against a Gator offense that hasn’t scored two offensive touchdowns in its last eight quarters of play, and there was little the defense could do other than try to poke the ball out. Which they didn’t. And so Alabama won the game and the SEC Championship, as most expected.

But that bomb from Harris to Worton was more than just a line in the stat book. It was a flickering remnant of the surging Gator team that took the country by storm in October by clobbering 3rd ranked Mississippi and rising as high as 8th in the polls. You know. The team with the Will Grier-led offense that could turn a game-deciding 4th and 14 into a 66 yard touchdown pass and presented the threat of scoring on any given play. The team that came out of nowhere to stake its claim as a national title contender. And the team that had Gator fans excited about their football team for the first time in a half decade.

It took a few games of learning on the fly, but when the calendar flipped to October, it seemed like the Gators had figured things out. Florida finally had an identity on offense, and a real threat playing quarterback to give defenses fits. Stack the box and take away Florida’s running game as so many opponents did to Will Muschamp teams, and Grier would punish you by throwing over the top. Play heavy coverage to try to stop the Gators’ newfound passing attack and the mysteriously improved Florida offensive line would provide Kelvin Taylor a big hole to run through. On top of all that, the Gators’ defense remained as stout as ever. And midway through the season, it seemed as though it would last forever.

We all know what happened next, though. Hours after guiding Florida to a 21-3 road win over Missouri, it came out that Grier had tested positive for PEDs, and was being suspended for one full calendar year. This marked the end that version of the Gators (which going forward I’ll refer to as Team A). The team was then turned over to Treon Harris, which introduced us to the version of the Gators we would see for the rest of the year (Team B). And Treon started out well enough. Florida’s loss at LSU certainly wasn’t his fault, and then two weeks later, he made the plays he had to in a 27-3 blowout of rival Georgia.

But then came the Vanderbilt game, and a promising season turned to hell. Or should I say, returned to the same sector of hell it generally presided in under Muschamp.

The days of going three and out thanks to an inaccurate QB with bad decision making tendencies that Florida fans had become accustomed to under John Brantley and Jeff Driskel returned, only this time, the frustration was amplified several times over. The great defense was still there, but without an offense to complement it, it was suddenly forced to do much more. Harris wasn’t bad in that Vanderbilt game, he was horrible, needing to complete five of his last six passes just to finish with a 50% completion percentage. Florida won that Vanderbilt game 9-7, a score that looks like it was pulled straight out of the Muschamp era, and watching the game only made… well, you get the point. It was Muschamp football all over again.

That win may have clinched the SEC East, but it merely clinched a title that Team A put in the overwhelming majority of the work to earn. After Grier was suspended, all Team B had to do was beat Georgia and win one of their other three games- against LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt- and the SEC East was theirs. Not exactly the toughest of tasks when you consider that Georgia gave Florida five turnovers and South Carolina and Vanderbilt won a grand total of seven games. The title was worth celebrating because it was Florida’s first such achievement in six years, but that game served more as a warning sign of what was to come than a point of celebration.

Two weeks later, Florida needed overtime to fend off a Florida Atlantic squad that came into the game 2-8 and received a hefty paycheck in exchange for coming to the Swamp, presumably to take a beating. Harris was responsible for an ugly interception and a fumble that turned into an FAU touchdown. The Gators’ 20-14 win was eerily reminiscent of another Muschamp trademark- the 27-20 win over Louisiana in 2012 in which Florida needed a walk-off blocked punt return touchdown in order to avoid overtime. And then of course came the FSU game, which featured the worst display of offensive ineptitude yet in a gruesome 27-2 loss. It just kept getting worse and worse, as each game looked more like Muschamp football than the one before it.

When the time came for Team B to play the game that Team A put them in position to reach- the SEC Championship Game- we got the result we expected. Florida lost 29-15, thanks to the offense generating just 180 yards and one touchdown. Sure, go ahead and blame the offensive line for all this if you want, but remember that it’s a lot harder to block for a quarterback who needs seven seconds to do something as opposed to three, and multiply that degree of difficulty by ten to account for the fact that no defense respects the passing game with Harris and thus doesn’t think twice about sending more rushers.

And that’s the epitome of Muschamp football. You know the formula: great defense plus no offense equals ugly games that come down to the defense/special teams to win in the end. That’s a formula that guarantees you won’t win a championship. You can have the nation’s best defense that wins you all the games you need in any given year but one. All your offense has to do is win the other one. And as we saw against Georgia in 2012 and FSU this year, Muschamp football can’t even do that.

This is the blueprint Muschamp left Florida. He also left the Gators with six scholarship offensive linemen, one quarterback of decent caliber (Grier) and only two skill position players (DeMarcus Robinson and Kelvin Taylor) worth anything. The job fell to Jim McElwain to build a championship contending team from those pieces, and he did by turning Grier into a legitimate SEC quarterback, developing freshman wideout Antonio Callway into a star, and taking the pressure off the line by making the defense have to defend the entire field as opposed to just the tackle box. But when Grier got suspended, the foundation of what he’d built was ripped away from underneath the rest, and so the entire thing imploded, regressing back to what it was when Muschamp was here: pure rubble.

Yet unlike the Muschamp days, there’s real hope for the future. Your guess as to why Treon Harris has regressed from week to week is as good as mine, but that’s not important. What is important is that we’ve already seen what McElwain can do with an actual quarterback. There were moments of youthfulness from Will Grier, sure, but from week to week Grier showed signs of improvement. A so-so game on the road at Missouri seemed like a small bit of turbulence in his ascension to greatness given the way he finished the Tennessee game and played against the 3rd ranked Rebels the following week. Thanks to his PED suspension, we’ll never know the heights he could have reached. But whatever happens to him going forward, we do know that at the very least, McElwain is capable of overseeing consistent growth and improvement from his quarterback. And as Grier’s time at the controls has proven, a competent quarterback is all that separates this team from being a championship contender as opposed to the defensively stout but offensively inept Muschamp type team it is without one.

The best news of all? We only have one more game of this Muschamp football to watch. The Citrus Bowl figures to be the last time Treon Harris can ever be referred to as Florida’s starting quarterback. Help is on the way, as the Gators figure to land at least one prized QB recruit (Feleipe Franks Jacob Eason) in this year’s class and another one in next year’s class in Jake Allen. And Will Grier is set to be reinstated after six games next year, so if McElwain struggles to find a consistent QB for the first half of the season, he can then fall back on Grier for the important games (Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and FSU).

All we have to do is survive one more game with Harris, a Citrus Bowl game against Michigan that would be nice to win but that ultimately means nothing, and then we can go back. Back to having a real quarterback and an offense to be excited about. Back to being relevant. Back to being a player in the national title hunt.

Back to being the Florida Gators.

12 thoughts on “2015 Gator football: a tale of two teams, the first of which provides hope

  1. Excellent read, dude. One of the many reasons I’ve been a fan since 2013. As unwatchable as this team has been the past month, you reminded me that the future is bright. I think we all knew that deep down, but I also think we needed a jolting reminder of it so that it moves to the front of our minds. It’s important to remember that as Harris keeps fucking around. Help us on the way. We will be back….

  2. Great post as you have made the future look a bit brighter.
    My criticism of coach Mac is that he is known for his “offensive mind” etc BUT why do you think had he not realized the limitations of Harris earlier and thus take the Red shirt off Guy?
    While Harris was known for at least limiting turn-overs last year and perhaps at LSU as well, that changed quickly and seemed like each week his turn-overs, bad interceptions and fumbles / strip sacks were increasing 10-fold.
    I was at the SEC championship and told everyone around me that Harris will make 1 maybe 2 Great throws and for the rest of the game will not adjust to the defense, hit open receivers and throw a duck or 2. Unfortunately I was correct. You can tell he was not sensing rushing defenses etc and thus no real feel for the game. Very Un-Mac like coached offense. Not 1 game but most Harris played since Grier suspension.

    I know it’s easy to say now about putting Guy out there, but I feel like per your piece there would have been some sort of respect for Guy’s arm more than Harris and would have at least created some opportunities for Taylor in the run game.

    Again I’m staying positive about next year as 1 year does not make or break a program. I do like Mac and the limiting the stupid penalties on both side of the ball this year tells me allot about him vs. Muschamp.

  3. Other than noting the struggles we’ve had in our kicking game, this was just perfect. Thank you for getting me excited about a team that has drained the excitement out of me.

  4. I think the writer is delusional. Grier, and the Gators were not a great team aand not any different than the team after Grier got caught cheating. The reason Grier had a strong finish to the Tennessee game is because he sucked the first three quarters of the game. Grier also sucked the last three quarters of the Missouri game. One good game, Ole Miss, does not make Grier a good quarterback. The Tennessee game was somewhat of a miracle. McElwain is very lucky, the odds of converting as many fourth downs as happened against Tennessee are extremely high. UF lucked out this time, but it’s no way to run a railroad. The train was teetering even then.
    Blaming Harris is ludicrous. UF has no running game, period. They are 114th in rushing yards per game. They are tied for 120th in yards per carry. Yet some fools blame Harris for UF’s woeful offense? Harris gets hit almost every time he drops back to pass. UF’s offensive line stinks. What is unmentioned is the fact that both Harris and Grier should not even be on the field at this stage in their career. If you noticed, the teams that UF got annihilated by, FSU and Alabama, didn’t start a guy at quarterback who was in his second year on campus, they had a 4th year Junior and a 5th year Senior. A player similar to Harris, Blake Sims, didn’t see the field at Alabama until his 5th year.
    Harris put up enough points to beat LSU, but the defense let LSU score 35. Do you want to give back Harris dominating Georgia? Which would you rather have, the win over Ole Miss at home, or a neutral site win over Georgia? UF wins and loses as a team, and the defense is also responsible for UF losing, along with the special teams. Do you know that UF played four teams that finished in triple digits in total offense? A fifth team, Kentucky, was only slightly better than UF, who finished 98th, by finishing 95th. No, my friend, UF’s defense was not nearly as great as you imagine, and certainly not near the quality of the 2012 defense, which was truly great.
    UF didn’t turn the ball over and give FSU any cheap points, they earned them, and UF had the ball more than FSU, so the excuse that was made for the defense against Alabama doesn’t apply. The supposed “DBU’ was toasted by Alabama and LSU. Those folks, including McElwain, who like to throw Austin Hardin under the bus, seem to forget that, if not for him, UF would have lost to Vandy at Homecoming again.
    The point is that there is no Team A or Team B, there is only one team, Florida. UF is, statistically, worse under McElwain than it was under Muschamp. I’ll grant that UF probably doesn’t win over Tennessee with Muschamp, because he would not have went for it on fourth down like McElwain who was that desperate. but I do recall Muschamp beating Tennessee the year before in Knoxville, under similar circumstances, so that is not a slam dunk either.No one even contemplates the possibility that defensive coordinators had plenty of film on UF the latter half of the season and, might, just might, have figured out what McElwain likes to do.
    This writer says that the bowl game is the last time you’ll see Harris at quarterback. I have no idea why he’s so confident about that. Who else does UF have? Luke Del Rio? He’s a guy that is on his third school, Alabama and Oregon State were his first stops, and he didn’t come to UF because he was doing well at either one of them. Now folks are saying he looks good in practice. Didn’t we constantly hear the same thing about Jeff Driskel? The other alternative is to start a true freshman in the first game, whoever that is. That has about as much chance of succeeding as converting as many fourth downs as UF did against Tennessee. In other words, an extreme long shot.
    UF was very fortunate that the SEC East was full of miserable teams this year. UF was also outstanding in turnover margin. The defense was very good at getting turnovers and the offense did a good job not giving them. UF was good, but not anything close to great, team this year. That waqs exposed when they played FSU and Alabama, and will probably be reinforced when UF plays Michigan. UF needs a lot more than a quarterback…

  5. I think the writer is delusional. Grier, and the Gators were not a great team aand not any different than the team after Grier got caught cheating. The reason Grier had a strong finish to the Tennessee game is because he sucked the first three quarters of the game. Grier also sucked the last three quarters of the Missouri game. One good game, Ole Miss, does not make Grier a good quarterback. The Tennessee game was somewhat of a miracle. McElwain is very lucky, the odds of converting as many fourth downs as happened against Tennessee are extremely high. UF lucked out this time, but it’s no way to run a railroad. The train was teetering even then.
    Blaming Harris is ludicrous. UF has no running game, period. They are 114th in rushing yards per game. They are tied for 120th in yards per carry. Yet some fools blame Harris for UF’s woeful offense? Harris gets hit almost every time he drops back to pass. UF’s offensive line stinks. What is unmentioned is the fact that both Harris and Grier should not even be on the field at this stage in their career. If you noticed, the teams that UF got annihilated by, FSU and Alabama, didn’t start a guy at quarterback who was in his second year on campus, they had a 4th year Junior and a 5th year Senior. A player similar to Harris, Blake Sims, didn’t see the field at Alabama until his 5th year.
    Harris put up enough points to beat LSU, but the defense let LSU score 35. Do you want to give back Harris dominating Georgia? Which would you rather have, the win over Ole Miss at home, or a neutral site win over Georgia? UF wins and loses as a team, and the defense is also responsible for UF losing, along with the special teams. Do you know that UF played four teams that finished in triple digits in total offense? A fifth team, Kentucky, was only slightly better than UF, who finished 98th, by finishing 95th. No, my friend, UF’s defense was not nearly as great as you imagine, and certainly not near the quality of the 2012 defense, which was truly great.
    UF didn’t turn the ball over and give FSU any cheap points, they earned them, and UF had the ball more than FSU, so the excuse that was made for the defense against Alabama doesn’t apply. The supposed “DBU’ was toasted by Alabama and LSU. Those folks, including McElwain, who like to throw Austin Hardin under the bus, seem to forget that, if not for him, UF would have lost to Vandy at Homecoming again.
    The point is that there is no Team A or Team B, there is only one team, Florida. UF is, statistically, worse under McElwain than it was under Muschamp. I’ll grant that UF probably doesn’t win over Tennessee with Muschamp, because he would not have went for it on fourth down like McElwain who was that desperate. but I do recall Muschamp beating Tennessee the year before in Knoxville, under similar circumstances, so that is not a slam dunk either.No one even contemplates the possibility that defensive coordinators had plenty of film on UF the latter half of the season and, might, just might, have figured out what McElwain likes to do.
    This writer says that the bowl game is the last time you’ll see Harris at quarterback. I have no idea why he’s so confident about that. Who else does UF have? Luke Del Rio? He’s a guy that is on his third school, Alabama and Oregon State were his first stops, and he didn’t come to UF because he was doing well at either one of them. Now folks are saying he looks good in practice. Didn’t we constantly hear the same thing about Jeff Driskel? The other alternative is to start a true freshman in the first game, whoever that is. That has about as much chance of succeeding as converting as many fourth downs as UF did against Tennessee. In other words, an extreme long shot.
    UF was very fortunate that the SEC East was full of miserable teams this year. UF was also outstanding in turnover margin. The defense was very good at getting turnovers and the offense did a good job not giving them. UF was good, but not anything close to great, team this year. That was exposed when they played FSU and Alabama, and will probably be reinforced when UF plays Michigan. UF needs a lot more than a quarterback…

    1. You realize tommahawknation.com is perfect for this kind of material, right?
      I figured you would leave after your incorrect Bama prediction. Or how about after you (posting under the name snowprint) predicted we’d lose to Kentucky? Or Tennessee?
      I pity your existence.

      1. Yes, I did predict UF would beat Alabama. But I overestimated UF’s defense. I also thought McElwain would give some help to the scrub on UF’s offensive line, Mason Halter. After watching him pancaked by an FSU safety the previous week, McElwain should have known there was zero chance he would hold up against a better defensive line than FSU’s. Harris was pummeled the entire game. But it wasn’t Harris that lost the game for UF. The most important play, the game changer that gave Alabama the confidence they would win the game was when Calvin Ridley toasted Vernon Hargreaves III just before halftime. Instead of going into halftime with a lead and putting doubt into the minds of Alabama’s players, Hargreaves III allowed the play that broke Florida. By the way, Coker didn’t throw a good pass then, a good throw and Ridley would have waltzed into the end zone. But he was so wide open that even an under thrown pass was good enough.Harris is not nearly as bad, and certainly not to blame for UF’s offensive struggles, as the peanut gallery thinks. Perspective, something many Gator fans don’t understand, is needed. Look at the SEC’s lineup of quarterbacks. Is Harris worse than any quarterback in the East? It’s not like Georgia, Missouri, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Kentucky, or Tennessee are trotting out a quarterback that is any better than Harris. UF should be thankful they have Harris, it could be a lot worse and I wouldn’t blame Harris for telling Gator fans to take a hike after the venom they have spewed from their ignorance. He gets abused each week because the Gator’s offensive line is so poor that a team like FAU dominates it, and the peanut gallery blames him when UF goes up against elite defenses like FSU and Alabama?

        1. What kind of ‘perspective’ were Nole fans showing last year when they vandalized their football team’s cars after they were exposed by Oregon?

  6. “Your guess as to why Treon Harris has regressed from week to week is as good as mine.”
    Pretty simple, actually, Neil.
    Treon didn’t regress.
    He’s had a low ceiling all along. Nothing he did actually changed as the season went along. What changed was defenses quickly figuring out that he was very limited in his skill set. By the fsu game, it was a foregone conclusion this offense was stuck in neutral because there was enough 2015 game tape to easily game plan for him. Everyone in the stands and watching on tv that had actually paid attention all season and follows this team could have predicted (and many of us did) what was going to happen. Compound it with the subpar O-line that couldn’t keep up, and we got two bad losses to finish out the season. IF the Gators stick with the same script, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest they won’t, we will see a similar 4 quarters play out in Orlando. Michigan has more than enough to make a solid defensive plan after about 15 minutes in the film room. Unless they can implement a wild-cat offense during the month off, we all have no other choice but to watch Treon continue to run around looking to get sacked, toss horribly under thrown deep passes, miss open receivers 10 yards down field, and the running game get stuffed as a result.
    We think Treon regressed because we watched Will mature and get better as the games passed. It made Treon’s non-development look like he was taking steps back, when in fact he already maxed out his abilities after spring ball.
    As I knew before the Bama game, notwithstanding the aforementioned miraculous wild-cat implementation, UF’s chances of winning the Citrus Bowl will hinge on a punt/fumble/INT return or two for TD, and a lucky underthrown pass-catch or three. I would love to see them win of course. But it’s more important for the team/staff to impress those recruits still on the fence.

Comments are closed.