University of Florida

Florida Gators QB Treon Harris becoming master of improvisation

Florida quarterback Treon Harris (3) celebrates with teammates after a 27-3 victory against Georgia on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida quarterback Treon Harris (3) celebrates with teammates after a 27-3 victory against Georgia on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. AP

Treon Harris is 6-3 as the Florida Gators’ starting quarterback. In two seasons, he has beaten archival Georgia twice, nearly spurred an upset over No. 5 LSU in Death Valley and led UF to its first bowl victory since 2011.

The former Miami Booker T. Washington star has proven to be an improvisational wizard, looking befuddled for several series before uncorking a perfect pass for a huge play. In Saturday’s blowout over UGA, Harris missed nine straight throws before unveiling his next bit of school-yard trickery, flicking a 66-yard touchdown to freshman wideout Antonio Callaway on a scramble play.

“We work a scramble drill every week,” No. 11 UF coach Jim McElwain said. “I’ll be darned if that wasn’t tailor-made for the exact reason we do the drill.”

Although Florida’s offense hasn’t been as efficient since former quarterback Will Grier’s suspension, explosiveness hasn’t been a problem.

For the season, Harris has 11 passes of 25 yards or more, and in the past two games alone, he has found Callaway, a fellow Booker T. alum, four times for at least 25-yard gains — several off improvised plays.

Although the two underclassmen never played together in high school, they’ve developed quite a Miami connection.

“It’s just like you can tell they’re from the same area,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. When Callaway, I think he was committed to Miami, and he came here on a visit, him and Treon were connected at the hip. You could just tell that they’ve been doing it. It wasn’t just this season, a couple months they put this together. They’ve been doing this since childhood, hanging out since childhood, probably in the backyard throwing the ball when they was 7 or 8 years old. You could just tell that they had that type of chemistry on the field.”

Although Harris’ ability to create explosive plays with his arm and legs has been key, McElwain wants to see some an uptake in the sophomore’s competition percentage.

Harris has connected on 50 percent of his passes just three times in nine starts — and that includes a 3-of-6 performance in the win over UGA last season.

“It’s not good,” McElwain said. “Shaquille O’Neal might have liked it for his free-throw percentage.”

When alerted that the NBA Hall of Famer’s career mark at the charity stripe was slightly better (52.7 percent) than Harris’ career-completion percentage (52.4), McElwain joked, “So I really disrespected Shaq because he’s better. I apologize for that.”

Harris has struggled with accuracy issues since coming to Florida, so McElwain & Co. have taken advantage of his skill set (elusiveness, improvisation, arm-strength) by moving the pocket and calling lots of designed roll-outs and bootlegs.

As illustrated against LSU and Georgia, Harris is at his best on backyard, busted plays, consistently finding his favorite target (Callaway) for explosive gains.

Although the completion percentage is a concern, McElwain is pleased with Harris’ overall play and penchant for protecting the football (just a single turnover all season).

“Here’s the interesting thing: We’re going to pick this apart,” McElwain said.

“But I think at the end of the day, we were on the right side of the scoreboard. We did what it took to win the ballgame. And that’s how we go into every ballgame.”

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