I want y’all to know from the get go that writing this article was very difficult for me.
The Gator Nation is, and forever will be, extremely grateful to Treon Harris for what he did last year. The fact is, he rescued Florida time and time again from complete and utter disaster.
It’s because of Harris that Florida’s current ten game winning streak against Tennessee remains intact. The Gators trailed the Vols 9-0 on Rocky Top after three quarters. Defeat, and the end of a ridiculous streak of dominance, seemed inevitable. But Harris entered the game in relief of the ineffective Jeff Driskel, calmly guided the Gators down for a touchdown and then a field goal on back to back drives. Perhaps sparked by Harris’s entry Florida’s defense held, and somehow, the Gators held on for a 10-9 win that elicited more relief than joy.
It’s because of Harris that Florida’s three game losing streak to Georgia was unceremoniously smashed with an emphatic 38-20 chomping in Jacksonville. Harris didn’t do anything spectacular, but he did make a few nice throws when he had to. He also didn’t make any big mistakes. And most importantly, the Gators just played so much better for him than they did for Driskel. Why exactly, I can’t say for sure and don’t want to speculate. But they did.
And it’s because of Harris that Florida made a bowl game last year, and salvaged something from an otherwise horrendous season. Sure, our coach at the time deserves plenty of blame for that, but Harris, who was a true freshman at the time, could have so easily gone in there and self destructed, making things even worse than they already were. One bad game by Harris- a non heroic end to the Tennessee game or a turnover filled fiasco against Georgia or Vanderbilt- and the Gators are looking at two straight years without a bowl game. They were that close. But thanks to Harris, it didn’t happen.
So given how indebted we as fans are to Harris for saving the Gators from a second consecutive bowl-less season- unthinkable for a program that’s won three national championships in the last 20 years- you can understand how hard it is for me to write a piece explaining why I now want him to be removed from the Gators’ starting lineup. But when I look at things objectively, starting, and exclusively using, Will Grier seems to be what’s in the best interest of the Florida Gators’ football program.
Simply put, Florida’s ceiling is higher with Grier than it is with Harris. It’s not by a gargantuan amount, but it’s noticeable enough for me to write this.
When Grier led the offense last night, he made all the right throws. He skipped his first pass into the turf (nerves, presumably) but then settled down and played magnificently. Perhaps his best throw of the night was this bullet to C’yontai Lewis:
TOUCHDOWN! Will Grier with a laser to C'yontai Lewis. 21-0 Florida https://t.co/QsO0jkSvVA
— #InAllKindsOfWeather (@AllKindsWeather) September 6, 2015
But it wasn’t just Grier’s arm (which is a bit stronger than Harris’s) that impressed me. He displayed a phenomenal awareness of where his teammates were and would be, which is an indication that he both knows the playbook like the back of his hand and has developed some real chemistry with his teammates. His touchdown pass to C’yontai Lewis at the end of the first half capped an excellent two minute drill to respond to a stray Aggie touchdown. Consider what could have happened if he’d messed up. Florida was leading New Mexico State 28-13 with halftime approaching, and the Aggies would get the ball back to start the third quarter. 15 points and the other team gets the ball for the third quarter is a hell of a lot closer of a halftime scenario than you’d like against a cupcake like New Mexico State. So while it’s not exactly the pressure of being down five late in the national championship game, it’s still a considerable amount for a freshman in his first game.
Grier also showed the confidence you want in addition to the physical traits. His touchdown pass to Lewis to finish the two minute drill was a perfect example. He didn’t hesitate for even the smallest fraction of a second, he just saw a man open and put it in his hands before the defense could recover or even figure out what was happening. Sometimes as a quarterback, you’ve just got to know something is the right move before you do it and follow through and make that move without a moment’s hesitation, because against better defenses, you won’t get even the most minuscule fraction of a second to debate what to do.
But midway into the game, I still wasn’t 100% sure who I wanted. I was leaning heavily toward Grier, but I wasn’t quite at the point of “I’ve seen all I needed to, I know I want Grier and there’s nothing that can happen to change my mind.” Then this happened.
Will (Wheels) Grier https://t.co/ZPXQBsG8tw
— #InAllKindsOfWeather (@AllKindsWeather) September 6, 2015
The running ability of Treon Harris- or more broadly, his athleticism, is supposedly the major advantage he has over Grier. But that notion was shattered when Grier took off on that 38 yard run. Are there going to be gaps that big for Grier to run through against better opponents? Probably not. But he’s more capable than people give him credit for in terms of making things happen with his legs, which cancels out the supposed advantage Harris has over him in terms of mobility.
And now that I’ve made my case for Grier, onto Treon Harris.
The main problem I have with Harris really isn’t his fault at all, which makes this even tougher to write. But he’s only 5’11. That puts him at a major disadvantage in two main ways. One is that he naturally can’t see the field as well as Grier, as evidenced by him missing a wide open receiver on a third down and long on the first drive the game; Harris’s decision to pull the ball down and take off cost the Gators a first down, as tight end Jake McGee was wide open on that play. The other problem that comes with his small stature is that he’s more at risk of getting passes stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Even if he has a receiver wide open, he sees him and is throwing what would otherwise be a perfect ball to him- in other words, even if he does everything right- the pass could be batted down before it even really takes flight and the result of the play is an incomplete pass.
It’s also not really fair to criticize Harris for his arm strength, which while certainly adequate, is not at Grier’s level. Grier throws a harder and farther ball than Harris can, plain and simple. The former is essential to fitting the ball in tight windows as Grier did several times against the Aggies and will undoubtedly have to in the future against better teams, and the latter is essential to hitting a receiver who’s lost his defender way down the field. But whether it’s fair to fault him for it or not is immaterial, because this is just the way things are.
One thing that you can fairly fault Harris for is his throw selection. It’s clear to me that he still needs improvement on when to use what type of throws, which is too tall a task to ask him to do now that the season has already started. What this means is that Harris has the tools to make all sorts of throws- lasers, rainbows and throws that fall somewhere in between- and still doesn’t seem to make good decisions on which is required in given situations. A certain play against FSU last year was a perfect example. Yes, Tevin Westbrook’s hands are made of stone, but Harris merely had to loft it to him and he walks in for a touchdown.
Look at all that space below Westbrook on the screen (which means in front of him in the real situation). Just softly toss it to him like you’re throwing it to a toddler and it’s 16-0 Gators.
Instead, Harris wings a bullet at him, and of course it clanks off his hands as if they’re a goalpost. The result? Disaster. Should Westbrook have caught the ball? Of course. If you’re given a scholarship to play tight end at Florida, you are obligated to catch a football that hits you in the hands. That still doesn’t mean Harris made the right throw.
And then last night, Harris had Brandon Powell wide open after Powell lost his defender. But Harris floated what could have been mistaken for a punt if not for the spiral he put on it, forcing Powell to break off his route, slow down, catch it, twist around, reorient himself and then dive for the pylon.
Apologies for the bad quality, but it’s a screenshot of a moving picture, so it’s naturally kind of blurry. But anyway: Powell is the guy higher up and more on the left of the screen here. The right throw is one with some zip on it, to get the ball to Powell as quick as possible so as to not give defenders the chance to recover and get back in position to make a play on the ball. Your receiver has beaten his defender. Punish the defender for it. That’s not even considering the fact that the window he had on this throw is bigger than it’s ever going to be against teams that are any good, and that lobbing a ball like that in any situation other than one where the receiver has his man beat by at least ten yards against a good team could be fatal.
In any case, Powell does get the touchdown, but it was made a little more difficult than it could have been because of Harris’s choice to lob it instead of fling it.
The fact that Harris is still throwing the wrong type of ball after a half year as the starter is a tad bit concerning, and gives me legitimate reason to question whether Harris could make such a decision like this again in the future, and have it come back and bite Florida in a big game like it did last year. And I get that it probably feels like I’m nitpicking since I’m using a touchdown pass against Harris, but again, remember who it came against, and take a moment to consider how a similar throw could have played out against a defense like, say, LSU’s.
You don’t have that problem with Grier. The man Gator fans have taken to calling “Willy Goat” rarely, if ever, floats balls that should be fired and vice vera. As a matter of fact, Grier fit several balls into tight windows against the Aggies; these were throws that film suggests Treon Harris wouldn’t even attempt to make. That’s the difference between a big gain and either a small gain to a check down option, incomplete pass or a sack.
When you combine everything I’ve mentioned so far- the arm strength, height, confidence and decision making- it all boils down to one key thing. With Grier in the game, you have the potential for big plays that you don’t have with Harris. Grier can make big plays when they’re seemingly not likely, whereas the only chance of getting a big play with Harris is a horrendous busted coverage that allows him some margin of error with his throw.
Again: I do like Harris a lot, and think he’s a great backup. He’s certainly better than any QB Florida has had since Tim Tebow, with the possible exception of Jacoby Brissett. And I can understand why benching him in favor of Grier isn’t really fair to him.
But the cold truth is, that’s not really our problem as fans. We’re talking about what’s best for the Gators. And with all that Grier brings to the table, the Gators are at their best with him at the controls.