Yesterday, I wrote a detailed piece on why I believe Will Grier deserves to be the Gators’ starting QB over Treon Harris. I still believe Grier is the better QB and has a higher upside, but to his credit, Harris has played pretty well, too. Not perfect, but pretty well.
Which begs the question: should both Grier and Harris continue to play well as the season progresses, is there even a necessity to make a decision to go with one and only one QB at any point?
The answer is a bit complicated, as it depends on a large quantity of variables.
Historically, rotating QB systems have been unsuccessful, to say the least. The last time Florida tried it was in 2010, when offensive coordinator Steve Addazio rotated between Jordan Reed and John Brantley (with a little bit of Trey Burton thrown in there). It, um, didn’t work. And not working has become the consensus result for rotating quarterback systems.
Another problem with being married to the idea that you have to play both quarterbacks is that if one of them is in a rhythm, and then you make the switch, you’re substituting your hot hand for a guy who’s cold off the bench. If one of your QB’s is playing really well, why take him out? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? If the QB in the game is struggling, that’s another story. But I see zero reason to ever take a QB who’s playing well out unless the outcome of the game has already been decided.
And as a sort of addendum to that last reason, rotating quarterbacks makes it hard for one to establish a rhythm to begin with. This is why Urban Meyer, who has two extremely talented QB’s in Cardale Jones and JT Barrett (and three, really, if you count Braxton Miller) went with Jones and only Jones last night. And in fact, both Jones and Barrett have stated that they’d rather have one guy be the starter than rotate. Going in at QB knowing you’re going to come out soon anyway can put a lot of pressure on you to have success on that drive, because any mistake you may make will then have to fester in your head for longer than it normally would if the other QB replaces you on your team’s subsequent possession. Both Harris and Grier are good enough QB’s to bounce back from miscues, but you’re asking a lot of them to have to sit out for an undetermined period of time before getting a chance to make up for this mistakes.
While the historical rule seems to be that rotating quarterbacks is a bad idea, Florida has been the team to provide the exceptions over the last 20 years. Steve Spurrier did it quite frequently during his time in Gainesville, most notably in the famous 1997 upset win over #1 FSU. And Meyer did it, too. While nobody could argue that the 2006 national championship team wasn’t Chris Leak’s team, it’s nonetheless true that the Gators probably don’t win the title without the efforts of Tim Tebow.
But the real argument for using a two QB system in this case is that both Grier and Harris bring different skill sets to the table. Grier has the better arm, and when he’s in the game, the Gators are more of a threat to beat you vertically than with Harris. Harris is faster, and when he’s in the game, the Gators are more of a threat to beat you on the outside with some run pass option and bootlegs. This forces defenses to have to prepare for two different offenses in practice all week, which is obviously not ideal.
And because of the fact that both QB’s certainly can do an adequate job at the things the other one does really well- Grier can run and Harris has a solid arm- defenses can’t just sell out and try to stop one thing. So while Grier being at QB may hint that Florida is going to go deep, defenses can’t just give up on the idea that he could run. New Mexico State tried that approach and got torched for a 38 yard run. And just because Harris is in the game doesn’t mean Florida is necessarily going to be throwing only screens and swing passes, either. The Aggies thought it did and left Brandon Powell all alone for Harris to heave a 38 yard touchdown pass to him.
The other thing that makes me believe that it could actually work is that both QB’s have played well to this point. Rotating QB’s are typically a sign of a struggling offense, but Florida’s offense actually looked pretty good in the first game (although… granted, that was against New Mexico State). So it’s not like Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier are rotating QB’s because neither has shown much promise, but rather doing it because both have proven to be effective leaders of the team. That makes me feel much better about the idea.
So, yes. To answer the question, a two QB system can work over the long run. There’s the possibility that it works perfectly. There’s also the possibility that it throws both out of a rhythm and prevents either from really getting going. This is why I personally want one QB to be picked by the Kentucky game. And I still think it should Grier because he’s the more natural QB with the better arm, and the better fit for the system Nussmeier and McElwain run.
But even though I generally hate the idea of playing two quarterbacks, I won’t deny that in this specific case, there are upsides to using both. And given his history of developing talented quarterbacks, I’d give McElwain a better chance than most of making it work.