It would have been totally understandable had Treon Harris buckled under the pressure of Death Valley at night and had a disastrous four turnover game against LSU last week. It would have been easy to point to the fact that he was thrown into the fire in the middle of a horrible situation with Will Grier, had no real live game action since East Carolina in early December save for a couple of designed running plays, and was now going up against a great team on the road a snap of a finger after appearing like his days as Florida’s starter were over.
Instead, Harris played considerably better than I expected. He some nice throws here and there, didn’t turn the ball over once, and fled the pocket before it was too late a couple of times to pick up valuable chunks of yardage. He’s also a valuable player simply by being in the game, as opponents now have to defend the possibility of him taking off and burning them on the ground whether he actually does that or not; LSU got beat deep once by neglecting to account for Antonio Callaway, who Harris connected with.
But Harris also showed some reasons why Grier beat him out to begin with.
There were inaccurate throws in big moments. On a third and four, trailing 28-21 late in the third quarter, Harris overthrew Brandon Powell on what could have been a first down. Powell had gotten himself wide open on a comeback route with no defender within four or five yards of him, and Harris just missed him. And then late in the game on a third and ten down 35-28, Harris had Callaway open on a crossing pattern, and threw it into the turf behind him. I’m assuming it was just nerves that caused both misses (he doesn’t have the world’s most accurate arm… but it’s not that bad), but that’s just something that he can’t do regardless.
There were times when he felt pressure and then subsequently tried to run away, which resulted in him getting sacked. He has to learn to just step up into the pocket instead of taking off, because what he’s doing, more likely than not, is running himself right into a defensive lineman. The rushers are trying to get inside the pocket, between the hashmarks, because that’s where the QB generally stands as he’s going through his progressions. The offensive linemen know this, so that’s how they block, and that’s the area they try to keep the defenders from getting into. Thus, the offensive linemen are willing to give up more room on the outside of the hashmarks so long as the defender doesn’t get inside him, into the pocket and a free shot at the QB. But when the QB flees the pocket, he’s running right to the spot the offensive linemen have given up and invited the defenders to run to, since that area isn’t where they’re assuming the quarterback would be. And so taking off in such situations is running himself straight into a sack.
And then there were the times when Harris failed to go through his progressions. Lots of them, I might add. Generally speaking, on a passing play, Harris looks for his first option, and if his line is blocking really well, he may glance at his second option. But then that’s it, the play is busted in his mind and now it’s time to improvise. That could mean running around in the backfield for ten seconds like it’s a game of tag and everybody but him is it, and forcing his receivers to break their routes and come back to try to help him, that could mean simply taking off and trying to get the yards with his feet (see previous paragraph) and that could mean dumping it off to his checkdown (not always a bad idea, but it could be if you lead him right into an oncoming defender).
Here’s the deal. Florida has a bye week before its annual showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville. So while it’s admittedly not this binary a situation, Treon has two weeks to learn from these mistakes. These next two weeks before the Georgia game will show us what Treon Harris is really made of.
I’m not putting too much stock into Harris one way or another based on one performance against a really good team, but these are some things he’s just got to improve on if Florida wants to win any of the really big trophies. And I’ll make it seem even peachier for anybody who’s getting nervous reading this: sure, Treon Harris has a ways to go in terms of developing as a QB, but you can beat Georgia with Treon Harris as your QB as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over- and he wasn’t responsible for a single turnover against LSU. Turning the ball over is typically the biggest problem young QB’s have to deal with, and since Treon doesn’t have that problem, that’s all the more reason to feel confident that he can continue to grow and develop.
And then assuming Florida beats Georgia as they should, the games get easier for Harris to continue to grow and develop before the season’s challenging conclusion. A hapless Vanderbilt team comes to the Swamp, followed by a road trip to South Carolina and a home game against paltry Florida Atlantic precede the Gators’ annual showdown with FSU, played in the Swamp this year. Then… well, we all know what comes next if Florida is able to beat Georgia. The big stuff. SEC Championship Game. A College Football Playoff semifinal, and at worst a New Year’s Six Bowl. But we’ll worry about that later. The point is, right now, Treon has one game to focus on: Georgia.
Let’s see if he’s able to learn from those mistakes against LSU. Let’s see if he’s able to be a better quarterback because of them. Let’s see if he can go 2-0 against Georgia as Florida’s starting quarterback.