Jim McElwain doesn’t believe quarterback Treon Harris deserves all of the blame for the offense’s struggles.
“You need to look a little bit at me and what I’m asking him to do, and trying to push the envelope a little bit,” McElwain said. “That’s how we’re going to be offensively as we continue to grow. He’s probably handled and done as good a job with his skill set.”
The 5-foot-11 Harris isn’t exactly the perfect fit for McElwain’s pro-style scheme. As a dual-threat quarterback who likes to use his legs to make big plays happen, Harris is having trouble turning into the pocket passer the Gators need him to be.
Florida’s offense has regressed since Harris took over for the suspended Will Grier. The unit scored 55 points over Harris’ first two games in Grier’s place against LSU and Georgia, but the Gators have combined to score 55 points over Harris’ next four games against teams with a combined 20-28 record.
“Obviously Treon has come under some heat in the last five weeks, but it’s not all on him,” said former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, who is now an SEC Network analyst. “I think part of it is they’ve asked him to do some things he’s not necessarily comfortable with.”
If No. 18 Florida (10-2) is going to upset No. 2 Alabama (11-1) in the SEC championship game on Saturday (4 p.m., CBS), the Gators’ offense will need to get things back on track.
Harris has completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions while losing three fumbles in six starts since replacing Grier. Harris ranks 83rd nationally in passing efficiency this season.
The solution to the unit’s struggles might be as easy as calling more running plays for Harris. The sophomore has averaged 10.5 rushing attempts per game since taking over for Grier, but many of those have come on scrambles instead of designed runs.
Florida’s lack of depth at quarterback is one of the reasons Florida has not run Harris as much as expected. The backup quarterback is redshirt senior Josh Grady, who transferred in from Vanderbilt in the offseason and was practicing as a wide receiver before moving up the depth chart due to Grier’s suspension.
“We’re not real deep at that position,” McElwain said. “Not to say Josh couldn’t come in and play if he’s given the opportunity to go in and do it, but quarterback runs have hurt (Alabama) if you look at it.”
The good news for the Gators is they will have more quarterback options to choose from next season. Even with Grier suspended for the first six games of the 2016 season, Florida brings back Harris and Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio, who is ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
But the biggest addition might be a quarterback who is currently playing in high school. Four-star Crawfordville Wakulla quarterback Feleipe Franks verbally committed to the Gators’ 2016 class on Sunday and plans to enroll in January.
Franks is the second 2016 quarterback to commit to Florida, joining three-star Manvel (Texas) quarterback Kyle Trask. But Franks is Florida’s prized quarterback commit, as 247 Sports has him as the highest-rated prospect in the Gators’ 2016 recruiting class.
“(Feleipe) is just a tall kid with a rifle for an arm,” said Chris Nee, a state of Florida recruiting analyst for 247 Sports. “The throwing motion is a little bit long and it’s going to have to be cleaned up. But I think his ceiling is extremely high and he’s not close to meeting it at this point. He’s a guy with the right development who can really turn into an excellent, excellent quarterback.”
Franks, who had originally committed to LSU, might not have much time to develop. If he ends up sticking with the Gators, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Franks will likely have a chance to compete for playing time immediately in Grier’s absence.
“I think short-term you would have to limit what you attempt to do with him if you were to throw him into the fire immediately,” Nee said. “I’ve never viewed him as a Day 1 type of kid. Can he cut it if you threw him in there next year? Yeah, he could. But I think he would also have moments when he would have to take his lumps. With quarterbacks, you don’t want to shatter their confidence.”
For now, the Gators are just focused on making sure Harris keeps his confidence. With all of the outside criticism swirling around Florida’s struggling offense, it would be easy for him to lose faith especially against Alabama’s second-ranked total defense.
“Treon comes to practice with a smile on his face every day and we like him,” wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “People judge him off of one game. But as a team, we still love Treon and he’s going to be our quarterback Saturday.”