The Florida Gators stumped Kentucky, shocked Tennessee and stunned then-No. 3 Ole Miss, but on Monday, they were the team that was blindsided.
The news of quarterback Will Grier’s one-year suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs jolted UF players, but instead of bellyaching or dwelling on Grier’s mistake, the No. 8 Gators are forging forward.
“It’s something that comes out of nowhere,” linebacker Jarrad Davis said.
“It’s something he didn’t expect. But man down, next man up.”
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Senior tight end Jake McGee added: “There’s really no time to focus on distractions. … You don’t have much time to dwell on it. You hear the news, you move past it. You take care of your teammates off the field. It happens. For us, it’s all eyes towards LSU.”
With a looming date against the No. 6 Tigers (5-0, 3-0 SEC) in Death Valley, the Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) are rallying behind sophomore quarterback Treon Harris.
The former standout at Miami Booker T. Washington has been mostly glued to the bench since starting UF’s opener against New Mexico State. Harris has played just three snaps since the win over East Carolina and was suspended for the Tennessee game after violating team rules.
The suspension seemingly eliminated Harris from Florida’s quarterback derby, as Grier embraced the newfound freedom and spearheaded three consecutive impressive wins over Tennessee, Ole Miss and Missouri. During the past month, Grier, a redshirt freshman, emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the country and a budding star. He leads the SEC in completion percentage (65.8 percent) and became the first Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow to throw for at least 200 yards in three straight games.
“Will was doing some crazy things on Saturdays,” Davis said.
“Some things I’ve never seen in my life. He was shaking dudes, making all these crazy passes.”
But now Grier’s door has closed and another opportunity opens for Harris. The sophomore went 4-2 as a starter last season and has thrown for 269 yards and two touchdowns this year, adding 63 yards on the ground.
“To me there's not much drop-off in talent, if there's any,” McGee said.
“He's going to be prepared and ready to go. He's played in a lot of big games. He's a big-time quarterback.”
In a competitive competition lasting into the season, Harris nearly beat out Grier because of his elusiveness and propensity to take care of the football. He has limitations (size, accuracy issues), but Florida plans to scheme around his strengths (moving the pocket, playmaking ability) to keep its passing game alive.
“He’s a gamer,” Bullard said. “He’s showed that. He’s proved it. We all have bad games or whatever, but I have 100 percent confidence in him. I’m not really stressing. I told him today, I tapped him and I’m like, ‘I’m behind you. Let’s go. Take care of the ball and we’re going to be all right.’ ”
Dealing with quarterback issues before facing LSU is nothing new to Florida. Last season, Harris appeared destined to replace the much-maligned Jeff Driskel, but a sexual assault allegation — one that was later withdrawn — forced him to miss the game.
On Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN), Harris will become the sixth UF quarterback to start against the Tigers since 2009.
“We already know what he can do,” Davis said.
“Last year we saw him and I was kind of surprised that he wasn’t starting this year. At the same time, Coach makes those decisions. He picked the right guy (Grier) and now it’s time for Treon to step up, take that spot back, charge on, and take us to the next checkpoint.”
Florida Gators QB woes against LSU
2015 — Will Grier is suspended for PEDs, elevating Harris back to the first-team. TBD
2014 — After rallying the team at Tennessee, Treon Harris appears destined to take over the starting job before a sexual assault allegation forces him to miss the game. UF loses 30-27.
2013 — With Driskel sidelined with a broken leg, Tyler Murphy makes just his third-career start. UF loses 17-6.
2011 — John Brantley and Jeff Driskel are injured against Alabama, so freshman Jacoby Brissett makes his first-career appearance in Death Valley. UF loses 41-11.
2009 — Tim Tebow battles concussion symptoms sustained in the Kentucky game. UF wins 13-3.