The debate about Florida’s QB position continues to rage on, but the time has officially come for it to stop.
Jim McElwain started Will Grier against East Carolina on Saturday, and while he wasn’t perfect by any means, he looked like a very good quarterback. He made one beautiful throw to Brandon Powell by fitting the ball in a tight window, and on another play, lured the entire ECU defense out to his left side before spinning away and throwing a strike to DeAndre Goolsby that became a touchdown. He made a few bad throws, too, but the overall sum of his performance was very, very good.
But none of that matters, or ever will matter, for as long as McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier continue to rotate quarterbacks. And judging from his press conference yesterday, Jim McElwain still doesn’t seem to have a starting quarterback picked out in his mind, meaning this rotation could possibly continue for some time.
I don’t have a problem with Mac using a little gamesmanship and making Kentucky have to prepare for both quarterbacks. And I also don’t have a problem with allowing Grier and Treon Harris to battle it out for another day or two. But I’m willing to guarantee that playing both QB’s in meaningful game situations will cause more harm than good in the long run.
We saw what happened against East Carolina. Grier got off to a slow start, but then really found his groove and guided Florida on what would have been back to back touchdown drives if not for a horseshit pass interference call on Jake McGee on the touchdown. Then Harris came into the game in the second quarter and the Gators failed to score, most notably going nowhere following a recovered fumble in the red zone. That’s when Grier- who’d been yanked after a strong start and was reduced to the role of spectator- was suddenly thrown back into the game. Predictably, he struggled after being thrust back into duty stone cold off the bench. The fact that Harris finished the game and played pretty well has negligible value, as it took him the whole game to find that rhythm.
As I said last week, rotating quarterbacks has the tendency to prevent either quarterback from getting settled into the game, particularly when neither one knows when he’s going to be put into the game. (I merely played Devil’s Advocate at the end of that article; I really, really don’t like platooning quarterbacks in a meaningful game for the reasons I listed above.) Even if both quarterbacks possess a completely identical skill set and are equally deserving to play, using both of them is a bad idea because it makes it really difficult for either of them to display the positives in a live game that made you want to play him in the first place.
And for the same reasons I cited last week, Will Grier and Treon Harris do not possess an identical skill set (Grier’s is better), which should make the decision even easier. We saw the same problems I pointed out about Harris this week against ECU. One play in particular sticks out to me (it came with 2:48 to go in the first half, so when I post the full game later today, you know where to look). Florida was in the red zone, and tight end DeAndre Goolsby quickly made toast of his defender, so Harris had him wide open by several yards. But instead of firing a bullet, Harris floated it over in his general direction, allowing the safety to hustle over and break up the pass. incomplete pass and Florida eventually settled for a field goal attempt- which Austin Hardin missed. A good throw, and we’re talking about a 20 yard gain to put the ball at the ECU 3 at worst, and possibly a touchdown. This is yet another example of Harris not throwing the right type of ball, except this time, it came in a far more crucial situation.
While Grier is by no means perfect and has a lot of growing to do, that’s a completion to Goolsby and maybe a touchdown if he throws that pass instead of Harris. His awareness is better than Harris’s, and it’s at a point where he uses a sniper rifle instead of a rainbow on that throw without even thinking twice about it. It’s just second nature to him to see a receiver wide open for a split second (meaning he won’t be wide open within fractions of a second) and get the ball there as quickly as possible.
The main counterargument for using Harris is that he’s more of a running threat. That’s a good argument to make when lobbying for someone to try to imitate Johnny Manziel on the scout team; unfortunately, that’s a horrible argument for why he should be the starting quarterback. What people who point to Harris being more athletic and a better running threat than Grier as their reason for wanting him to play don’t understand is that athleticism is far less important of a trait for a quarterback to have than good decision making and an accurate arm. Hell, Treon Harris is far more athletic than Eli Manning or Tom Brady, yet both of them have multiple Super Bowl rings simply because they are great at making decisions regarding who to throw to and what kind of ball needs to be thrown. Pure athleticism is nice, but it’s a small piece in a humongous “Who’s our best bet at QB?” puzzle.
I feel like I’ve been a pretty fair and rational person so far in regards to the rotating quarterbacks situation. I’ve calmly sat back and pointed out why Grier is better from a pure football standpoint, and explained the problem that rotating quarterbacks causes in detail. But I’m running out of patience here. The SEC schedule is upon us, which means the time for experimenting and evaluating is over, and the time to make decisions and quit screwing around with platoon systems is now. That also means it’s time for me to be blunt and lay everything on the table.
So here, Coach McElwain, from me to you: unlike our previous so-called leader, I believe you are a tremendous football coach with an outstanding knowledge of the game. It’s time for you to support that belief with your first major act, and make Grier the QB once and for all. Messing around with a QB audition against New Mexico State is one thing, but when Grier showed he had the better arm and made better tactical decisions, you should have pulled the trigger then, been done with it, and focused more heavily on other parts of the team that need it. Instead, you elongated the battle against ECU and nearly lost the game. The lack of continuity at the QB position came close to costing the Gators a victory in a game in which it paid its opponent big bucks to presumably come and take a beating. You have to end this “battle” before something really bad happens, such as a rotation on Saturday that doesn’t allow either QB to find a groove and Florida loses to Kentucky for the first time in 30 years because of it.
And on the subject of actually making the switch: I realize it’s difficult to tell Treon Harris, who saved the Gator program from utter disaster in 2014, that he’s been permanently benched, but I don’t care. You are paid millions of dollars to make the Florida Gator football program the best it can possibly be, and as we’ve been through before, alternating QB’s only hurts your quest to achieve that goal as opposed to help it. No, Treon isn’t a bad QB, but rotating quarterbacks creates more problems than either QB is capable of solving in limited action. This may suck for Treon, but that’s too bad. There are dozens of other players on scholarship on this program, plus several hard working assistant coaches, trainers and other employees who deserve to win football games when they do their respective duties on the practice field and on game day, and alternating quarterbacks any longer decreases the likelihood of that happening. That’s not to say I don’t feel badly for Treon, because I do. But you can’t worry about what’s best for one player if that goes against what’s best for the rest of the players, coaches, assistants, etc. and the program as a whole.
Now, you probably know what the next line is going to be, so let’s address it: I’d very much prefer Treon to stay with the program and not transfer, but if he does, then so be it and we’ll have to live with that. Harris would make a great backup given his extensive game experience and familiarity with this offense and chemistry with his receivers. Should something happen to Grier injury wise- as recent history has shown is very possible- I’d feel a hell of a lot better handing the controls of the offense over to Harris than I did with Skylar Monrhinweg. But if he transfers, then that’s his call, and of course I’ll wish him the best.
And if and when you name Grier the starting quarterback? He’s probably going to make mistakes as all freshmen do. But his ceiling is higher than Harris’ is, and you need to let him go through those growing pains and stick with him. Sometimes trial by fire is how young quarterbacks become great ones, and the more reps he gets in live game action, the quicker and more fully you will see him develop. And whatever mistakes he does make are guaranteed to be cause fewer problems than continuing to rotate two quarterbacks will.
So the bottom line: Coach McElwain, I beg of you, please put an end to this quarterback “battle” and declare Will Grier the Gators’ sole quarterback before it starts to cost you wins. You owe it to the assistant coaches and 50+ other players who give their heart and soul for this program to do what’s best for the team.
And what’s best for the team is to give opponents a real reason to Fear the Grier- by unlocking the handcuffs that are a rotating quarterback system and setting him free.