Two years ago, then-sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel teased a national audience with a breakout performance in a rowdy Neyland Stadium, engineering a huge second-half comeback to put Florida — briefly — back on the map.
On Saturday, the Gators’ much-maligned starter likely lost his job on the very same field.
Driskel, a redshirt junior, was awful in Florida’s 10-9 victory over Tennessee, throwing three interceptions while somehow topping his nightmarish performance against Alabama.
Driskel has seven turnovers in three Southeastern Conference games, and coach Will Muschamp waited as long as he could to finally pull the plug. The fourth-quarter insertion of dynamic freshman signal-caller Treon Harris could stand as a career-saving move for UF’s coach.
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“We felt like we were very stagnant, we needed to make a change at the quarterback position in this game,” Muschanp said.
“We went with Treon, he obviously brought some energy to us. He made a nice ball on the throwback down the sideline. Really proud of his composure coming in to a tough place and just doing an outstanding job. Extremely proud of him.”
Harris hardly finished with hero stats, but the freshman righted an anemic offense by simply being someone other than Driskel behind center. His energy and enthusiasm was palpable, and his teammates rallied around his coolness.
Harris led both fourth-quarter scoring drives. His first throw was a 12-yard completion. Later, he added a 10-yard run to setup Matt Jones’ 2-yard touchdown dive.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s one of those guys who has the ‘it’ factor,” Muschamp said.
“He’s a winner. He’s won a bunch of games at [Miami] Booker T. Washington, and it’s no different than other quarterbacks I’ve been around that have that certain aura about themselves.”
Harris won 22 games in a row with the Tornadoes, including two consecutive state titles, and now could be handed the keys to pilot the Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) out of their offensive funk.
“He showed great poise,” senior right tackle Chaz Green said. “It’s something we see in practice every day.”
Harris nearly threw the game-deciding interception, but the ball fell to the turf and he ultimately navigated the Gators into field-goal range with just over six minutes remaining.
He finished with 24 yards on the ground and just 17 yards in the air, but it was such a dramatic boost from Driskel it seemed like much more.
“It was a fresh start,” Jones said. “He gave us a lift. … It is what it is.”
Florida’s players have apparently lost faith in Driskel, and Muschamp risks losing the locker room if Harris doesn’t start against LSU (4-2, 0-2).
Still, it’s not a given, as Florida’s coach has remained steadfast in his support of Driskel in recent weeks. UF’s offensive ineptitude is hardly all Driskel’s fault, with shoddy playcalling, drops, poor execution and inconsistent line play contributing to the team’s woes.
But before the Tennessee game, Muschamp’s message was, “Jeff gives us the best chance to win.” Afterward, he backtracked, remaining coy on the immediate future of his quarterback.
“Moving forward we won’t make any decisions on who’s going to start our next ballgame right now,” Muschamp said. “It was a very emotional win. We’re going to go home, we’re going to watch the film, we’ll see why we’re not, obviously offensively, doing some things that we feel like were there.
“It wasn’t all on Jeff.”
When prodded for more, he added, “If we have to play two quarterbacks moving forward, we’ll do that. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win games.”