The news of Will Grier being suspended by the NCAA for a positive PED test probably couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Florida Gators are 6-0, including a massive upset over the Ole Miss Rebels to propel the team into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, the offense has to plan for a game against an undefeated No. 6 LSU team in Baton Rouge this Saturday without their starting signal-caller.
However, don’t be so quick to count the Grier-less Gators out of serious contention.
Recall that Treon Harris was in the thick of a tense quarterback competition to start the season. As the incumbent quarterback entering 2015, he already had a comeback win over Tennessee under his belt. One upside of the situation for the Gators is that Harris is no stranger to performing a fill-in role under pressure. When former Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled in 2014, Harris was able to effectively step in.
Now, his numbers in 2014 were not stellar by any means. Per ESPN, Harris completed 49.6 percent of his passes and was sacked seven times. However, he also managed nine touchdowns to just four interceptions, and the relatively-high sack count didn’t have as much to do with his lack of awareness in the pocket as it did with an embattled offensive line.
Actually, Harris’ awareness in the pocket has never been a problem. His athletic frame and ability to productively scramble added another dimension to Florida’s offense. He finished the season with 332 yards on 75 rushes, and the coaches readily called roll-outs, play-action, and designed runs.
If the Gators are going to win against LSU on Saturday, the offensive game-plan will carry extraordinary weight. Harris has an entirely different skill set than Grier has given the Gators this season, but the Gators can certainly use the former’s strengths to their advantage.
Both Florida and LSU have eerily similar rush defense statistics; the Gators are allowing 99.2 YPG on the ground, while the Tigers are allowing 99.6 YPG.
In the running game, LSU’s Heisman candidate, Leonard Fournette, promises a formidable challenge for Florida’s front seven, but where the Tigers are prolific in their ground game, their passing attack has been inconsistent. In fact, the Tigers really haven’t truly been tasked with airing the ball out to maintain a lead or play from behind against a serious opponent.
While the Gators may experience equal growing pains in the passing game with Harris, Florida is far more equipped to defend the run than LSU is. This is because while Florida’s defensive line and linebacker unit are both solid, their secondary is phenomenal. As the coaches have done in the past, having such a dangerous secondary allows the Gators to stack the box and comfortably leave their defensive backs in solo man-coverage.
It very well may be a strategy that both teams employ, but it’s become the Gators’ trademark.
Treon Harris doesn’t need to single-handedly will the Gators to a win against LSU this week. With the right game-plan, efficient quarterback play, timely runs, and protecting the football, this game is well within Florida’s reach.
They’re 6-0 now. If the Gators can come out of Baton Rouge unscathed, an undefeated season isn’t out of the question.
Not bad for a rebuilding year.