Florida wasn’t supposed to beat Alabama. But let’s just come right out with it: If Will Muschamp wants to remain the head football coach of the Florida Gators, he needs to use the bye week to prepare Treon Harris as the starting quarterback for Florida’s season-defining game at Tennessee on October 4th.
Any other decision, and there are various permutations and possibilities, delays the inevitable, stalls the forward progress of the program with or without Will Muschamp, and probably means Florida loses at least one more game than it should at some point this season. And despite the fact that journalists and fans alike are having the debate about whether Jeff Driskel should remain Florida’s starting quarterback, the answer, with even a semi-deep look at the numbers and a memory’s look at the film, is extremely clear.Jeff Driskel is not a championship quarterback. Some have known it all along. Some are just realizing it, all while still apologizing for him. But the reality is this: Jeff Driskel’s ceiling, regardless of the original recruiting projections, is not that high. He’s had four years to get better. He hasn’t. He will never grow into a championship quarterback. And elite programs end goal is to win championships. So it’s time for the Gators to try someone else. What’s the Jeremy Foley philosophy: “If something has to be done eventually, why not do it immediately?” That applies to quarterbacks as much as coaches. And it applies to Jeff Driskel.
Let’s get the counter arguments out of the way at the top. We’ll call this “seeing the whole field.” Or if you’d prefer, “reading the progression.” We know Jeff Driskel can’t really do those things. We’ll try anyway, in no particular order.
1) You can’t blame Driskel for Saturday. Florida was comprehensively beaten in all facets of football except punting, and surrendered a school record amount of yards. Not even Tommie Frazier bulldozing his way through seven Gator defenders felt that bad, and that was (previously) the worst…
Yes, Florida’s defense had a terrible day. A record breaking kind of terrible day. Yes, the Gators made untested Blake Sims look like Drew Brees. Yes, Florida missed thirty tackles. And yes, Will Muschamp has always had his defense. Until Saturday. But here’s the reality: Alabama needed 87 plays to gain that many yards. A handful of broken coverages accounted for about 300 of those yards in the air. And while that’s not an “excuse”, it is more reasonably in tune with what more sober Gator fans should have expected from this defense when the year started: a young secondary that would struggle, similar to the 2007 secondary, but had the talent to get better. Point being- some defensive letdown was inevitable.
And yet– Florida forced four turnovers, and it would have been five had Brian Poole not dropped an interception (more on that in a moment). Florida forced punts at critical times, including one that gave the offense a very short field (Florida fumbled). And despite the woeful third-down defense (more than half of Alabama’s yardage came on third down!), Florida did an admirable job against the run until late in the second half.
So if your takeaway from Saturday was to blame the defense– we watched largely different football games. That Florida lost the time of possession battle is to be expected (tempo teams concede that statistic and are part and parcel the reason people think it doesn’t matter anymore). That Florida’s defense spent two-thirds the football game on the field had a great deal to do with the fact that its offense couldn’t move the football. There was a point in the game where Florida trailed seven points in the third quarter and had six first downs. Six. That’s mind-boggling stuff. Factor that in when you think about Brian Poole dropping an interception. If Florida’s offense is sustaining drives and scoring points, does Poole drop that ball if he’s not already trying to run to the Alabama endzone? Ditto Dante Fowler’s fumble recovery turned fumble turned fumble recovery. Does Fowler fall on the ball if he thinks Florida can drive seventy yards for a score? I don’t know if it is cruel or telling that Florida failed to score after that sequence regardless, but it’s reality.
2) Jeff Driskel is on his third offensive coordinator and coming off a knee injury. He didn’t get the Idaho game to work out the kinks in a new offense, and the bye week will do wonders.
Nice story. But Chris Leak had multiple offensive coordinators. All he did was lead the SEC in passing efficiency and win the BCS National Championship MVP with his third coordinator. He didn’t have an injury? Okay. Fair. But that’s football. They still play tackle in the age of targeting. If you are afraid to get hurt, get off the field. By the way: Tim Tebow had multiple offensive coordinators. He was pretty good. Rex Grossman had multiple offensive coordinators. He should have won the Heisman under one and beat an undefeated Georgia on a sprained knee with only one decent WR with the other. He was pretty good. AJ McCarron had multiple coordinators. He won championships. I could go on. The bottom line is Driskel is a fourth year player and he’s actively regressing: the accuracy problems we’ve seen against Kentucky and Alabama aren’t particularly noteworthy when you evaluate his freshmen year. And this in an offense we were told all summer he was born to run.
3) Your standards are too high, or “the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town.”
They should be. It’s Florida football. John Reaves, Wayne Peace, Kerwin Bell, Danny Wuerffel, Rex Grossman, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow played quarterback here. They were pretty damn good. And before them, Steve Spurrier played quarterback here and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the face of Florida football when all it had done was fall on its face. So Florida fans expect greatness from their quarterbacks. And they should. That’s the identity of the football program. And the university has spent a ton of money on statues for Gale Lemarand Drive that say I’m right.
And the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town cliche is a cliche because sometimes, it’s true. Was it stupid for Gator “fans” to boo Chris Leak when he was a senior and leading the SEC in passing efficiency? Of course it was. But there are plenty of examples of ineffective starters who have to yield to effective starters. Todd Helton yielded to a young Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Clint Trickett yielded to Jameis Winston (yes, that happened). Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow.
4) Jeff Driskel gives Florida the best chance to win aka “The Muschamp” Argument.
Let’s be blunt again: no he doesn’t. If you want eloquent, read Nick De La Torre’s piece at Gator Country. I’m here to deliver more facts. Here’s Jeff Driskel’s numbers against teams that have qualified for bowl games in his tenure:
@ Texas A & M 13-16, 162 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (Win 20-17 vs. Johnny Manziel, also making first start)
LSU 8-12, 61 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (Win 14-6)
@ Vanderbilt 11-20, 77 yards, 11 carries, 177 yards, 3 rushing TD’s, 0 passing, 0 INT (Win, 31-17, probably his best game as a Gator…)
South Carolina 11-16, 93 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT (Win, 44-11. Only player in modern SEC history to throw 4 TD’s while passing for under 100 yards)
Georgia 15-27, 191 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 13 carries, -4 yards (Aaron Murray was worse. But both had QB ratings under 15!!!, and UGA won, 17-9)
Louisiana Lafeyette 13-16, 98 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 12 carries, 76 yards—Florida trailed 17-13 at home when Driskel left game, Jacoby Brissett rallies Gators to avoid embarrassing defeat)
@ Florida State 15-23, 147 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 11 carries, -20 yards (Managed the game. Last time FSU lost in tackle football)
Louisville 16-29. 175 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 10 carries, 4 yards (Pick six on opening play set tone for upset loss)
@ Miami 22-33, 291 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 9 carries 19 yards (2 red zone interceptions crushed Gators hopes of confidence-building victory, ruining career high passing day)
Alabama 9-28, 93 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 11 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD (Alabama rolls Gators 42-21 despite four turnovers and great field position for Florida for three quarters)
PASSING TOTALS: 122- 220. 1388 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT
RUSHING TD: 4
TOTAL TD: 13
GAMES WHERE THREW FOR UNDER 100 YARDS: FIVE—That’s staggering!!
GAMES WHERE FLORIDA SCORED MORE THAN 21 POINTS: 5 (Though it should be noted the last TD vs. Louisville came in garbage time and Brissett was in the game for Florida’s final offensive TD drive of that game, so realistically—THREE. Also staggering!!)
W-L: 6-4 (Really 5-4 but bailed out by Brissett and Jelani Jenkins vs. Louisiana-Lafeyette)
AND, For what it’s worth…Games Won, Memorable Heroes:
Texas A & M: Defense, Mike Gillislee
South Carolina: Defense, Louichez Purifoy
LSU: Matt Elam, Mike Gillislee, Offensive Line
Louisiana-Lafeyette: Fans that didn’t leave, Jacoby Brissett, Jelani Jenkins
Florida State: Matt Elam, Mike Gilislee, Antonio Morrison, Offensive Line
By my count, that’s ONE football game- at Vanderbilt in 2012– when Jeff Driskel looked the part of the nation’s #1 QB recruit and played the part of guy who won Florida the football game. On that night, without Jeff Driskel, Vanderbilt probably wins.
The problem with that is simple arithmetic. How many of the other games, won or lost, would Florida have won with Brissett? Or with Tyler Murphy? Or with any other potential replacement quarterback? You might argue they’d have won less. But if that’s your argument, then you are suggesting Florida desperately needed Driskel and his less than 150 ypg average, or his 1 TD pass per game (with four of those on one day!). That’s a pretty untenable position.
Driskel has had four years to deliver on his recruiting promise, and has instead morphed into the following: a game manager who is inaccurate, consistently throws for under 100 yards against quality opposition and has a penchant for red zone interceptions. He went 11-2 with 12 NFL players on his defense. And the two games he lost that season- Georgia, Louisville– both involved him making disastrous throws at dreadful times. In fact, as painful as the Georgia game was, you could argue the Louisville game was more of a testament to his inability to win games: the one time his defense needed him that season, he couldn’t deliver.
It is time to move on. And it isn’t just about the future of the program. Benching Jeff Driskel helps Florida win now.
The Gators young secondary is going to have tough days this fall. The answer, of course, is sustaining drives and scoring points. Kurt Roper was paid handsomely to come to Florida to accomplish those goals. The longer the Gators possess the ball, the longer the secondary is coached on the sideline. The longer they are coached, the less likely the coltish breakdowns. The more points Florida scores, the more bend the Gator defense can show. These things go hand in hand. Anyone who watched Florida win 9 games thanks to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin in 2007 understands something of what I mean. And no- I’m not suggesting there’s two talents on that offense like them: simply suggesting that when you have a poor/young secondary- you better be able to score. And keep in mind that secondary lacked the nation’s finest cornerback. They had to wait a year for Joe Haden to become that.
Benching Driskel helps Florida win now because Driskel, with a large sample size, has shown he isn’t the quarterback to do much more than manage a game with some mediocrity. Florida needs a quarterback who can make plays.
In my view, Treon Harris is that player. And if he isn’t, Will Grier could be. Doesn’t matter. We know Driskel is not.
Any Gators who painfully watched Florida State survive Clemson Saturday night may have missed an illustrative irony if they weren’t paying attention. Three possessions into the game, playing on the road, Dabo Swinney benched his senior quarterback, a kid who had waited his turn and shown great personal triumph over adversity, for a talented true freshmen everyone wanted named DeShaun Watson.
For his part, Watson played brilliantly, only to be let down by a veteran offensive lineman who snapped the ball over his head and a veteran running back who breadbasketed the ball and fumbled while Watson was leading the team down the field for the winning score late in the fourth quarter. This week, Coach Swinney made the switch to Watson permanent.
It was the kind of move that a coach coming off a BCS bowl win and a nice contract extension can make, I suppose. But it was also a move that will reap dividends for Clemson long-term. As a Gator fan, it was hard not to take notice. You recruit the high-school superstar to play the high-school superstar. If the former high school superstar is no longer a star, you play “next man up.” As next man up, Watson was ready.
The irony, of course, wasn’t that Swinney had the guts to play his true freshmen at the defending national champions and Muschamp didn’t have the guts to put one of his freshmen in at a team that was Champions of nothing last season and breaking in a new quarterback themselves– but rather that FSU was playing Sean Maguire at quarterback for the suspended Jameis Winston, and this was entirely out of necessity. And that was because of Will Muschamp.
You see, Muschamp closed like crazy on Treon Harris, a coveted quarterback who he flipped from Florida State to the Gators at the last minute. In an alternate universe, there’s a scenario where Harris is the starter for FSU Saturday night, playing in Winston’s stead and facing off with Watson. Instead, Harris stood on a Tuscaloosa sideline, and Jimbo Fisher was forced to play the very limited Maguire, who turned in a performance Driskel would dream about. Agonizing irony.
With a bye week to prepare for a game I think realistically will determine his future in Gainesville, Will Muschamp should pull a Dabo Swinney and turn to his freshmen superstar, Treon Harris.
Harris is the son of a legendary coach, Ice Harris, who won multiple state championships at Booker T. Washington in Miami before departing after Treon and he won another last December, crushing longtime power Jacksonville Bolles in the state championship. So Harris is used to winning. Driskel’s teams never advanced beyond regionals. Coaches sons tend to do pretty well running and playing for athletic teams in Gainesville (see, Green, Taurean; Wilbekin, Scottie; Hargraeves III, Vernon, among others). Harris certainly won’t suffer from being unprepared. He arrived late– but still managed to beat out early enrollee and more highly-touted quarterback recruit Will Grier in summer ball. So we know Harris will compete. Driskel sometimes appears as if he’s given up. And Harris played football against the big boys in Miami. It’s amazing how much that matters with young players. It was the reason Charlie Weis valued Jacoby Brissett over Driskel to begin with and the reason longtime recruiting savant Larry Blustein once told me he’d take “a three star from Miami Northwestern over a five star from a random private school” most days of the week. Harris is the best of both worlds: a highly-touted player from a perennial power who happens to be a coaches son and who a quarterback whisperer named Jimbo Fisher had tabbed to be his next quarterback.
You win the recruiting battle to play him, Will. You win the recruiting battle because you think he’ll help you win games. And now you know the old guy can’t win you enough games. So it is time to move on, coach.
For the program’s sake.