Gators notes: While Treon Harris lacks experience, he provided spark vs. Vols

True freshman quarterback Treon Harris helped Florida's offense get in gear late in a road win over Tennessee.

Randy Sartin/Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was eager to get to the office to review film from Florida’s 10-9 victory at Tennessee.

In a game that featured only 465 yards of total offense — Tennessee finished with a slim 233-232 advantage — neither team was able to put together consistent scoring drives.

However, the Gators made a move late in the third quarter that proved to be a difference maker: replacing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel with true freshman Treon Harris.

Harris led the Gators on a five-play, 30-yard scoring drive to open the fourth quarter for Florida’s first points. On the next Florida series, Harris engineered an eight-play, 49-yard drive that ended with Austin Hardin’s 49-yard field goal.

Harris finished 2 of 4 for 17 yards and added 24 yards rushing on four carries. His biggest contribution was providing a jolt of energy for UF’s stagnant offense.

”There was some momentum built up when he went in and made a few plays,” Roper said. ”That was important in this game. We were able to convert some third downs and (that) kept us on the field. He was on the field enough to put us in position to score 10 points.”

The Gators turned to Harris trailing 9-0 and with the offense unable to mount a real threat through three quarters. Driskel was 11 of 23 for 59 yards and threw three interceptions, two of them off balls deflected, including one catchable pass that was tipped into the air by receiver Demarcus Robinson.

While Gators coach Will Muschamp gave no indication after the game whether Harris or Driskel will be the starter Saturday against LSU, Harris passed the test in front of more than 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium.

”It’s a big difference from having a guy who’s been there and a guy who hasn’t been there,” offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said. ”There’s some antsiness. We have to protect him better so he can actually see stuff. Jeff is older and sees stuff easier than Treon. With Treon, you have to make sure he gets optimum time to see everything he can see.”

As Roper talked to Harris on the headset about entering the game, Roper was impressed by Harris’ demeanor.

His teammates may have been antsy, but Harris seemed just fine.

”They’re endless,” Roper replied when asked about concerns of putting a freshman into the game in that situation. ”You start having a conversation with him on the sideline: ‘how do you feel about this set of plays? Or this set of plays?’ You just want to make sure he understands all the issues that are problems there.

QB questions

”He was really calm. He handled it all well. We were trying to build momentum. He did that.”

DRISKEL’S DAY

The first time Driskel played at Neyland Stadium, he led the Gators to a 37-20 win and played one of his best games. The fourth-year junior was unable to duplicate that performance this time around.

Driskel passed for a career-low 59 yards in a game he started and did not leave because of injury, and his three interceptions give him five over the past two games.

As was the case in a loss at Alabama two weeks ago, his receivers did little to help him with multiple drops.

When Harris entered the game Driskel remained engaged with the offense on the sidelines and shared some words with Harris before the freshman replaced him.

Muschamp refused to lay all the blame for Saturday’s struggles on Driskel but said the team needed a spark when he opted for Harris.

”We felt like we were very stagnant,” Muschamp said.

To his credit, Driskel didn’t avoid the media afterward to discuss a performance he would probably rather forget.

”It was frustrating,” he said. ”We weren’t getting the ball moving, especially in the passing game. It’s tough when (our) defense is playing that good and you can’t get anything going on offense. It was rough.”

Driskel said he understood why the change was made considering how ineffective the offense had been and thought Harris did well in the difficult environment.

”I told him to go out there and play hard, believe in yourself, believe in what you’re coached to do and protect the ball,” Driskel said. ”That’s what he did. He gave us a good spark.”

As for the lingering questions about his future, Driskel doesn’t plan to alter his approach when the Gators return to practice Monday afternoon.

Wish answered

”I don’t know what the plan is from here,” he said. ”Not going to let (the negativity) shake me or get to me. I know Coach Muschamp is going to put the guy out there who he thinks is going to have the best chance for that team. We’ll go from there after that decision.”

COX BREAKS OUT

Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. left the team early Thursday morning to attend his grandfather’s funeral.

He didn’t rejoin the Gators until late Friday night at their Knoxville hotel. If there were any concerns about Cox’s state of mind, they were for naught.

”Never crossed my mind at all,” Cox said of not playing. ”I love this game and I felt like he would want me to play this game. There was none of that at all.”

All Cox did was play the best game of his UF career, finishing with five tackles, three sacks and a quarterback hurry. Cox is the first UF player to have three sacks in a game since Carlos Dunlap had three against Mississippi State in 2009.

For a moment he thought he was going to have a fumble recovery, too. When freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor sacked Vols quarterback Justin Worley, the ball was loose as Cox tried to grab it.

Instead, Tabor pulled it in to give Florida possession at Tennessee’s 30-yard line, leading to the Gators’ first score.

”They tried to pin me in and I tried to get outside and I just saw him come out of nowhere and just strip-sack,” Cox said. ”I tried to run and go get it but he grabbed it in before I could get there.”

Cox’s biggest sack came on a second-and-3 play with Tennessee at its 45 and leading 9-7. Cox dropped Worley for a 6-yard loss and after Tennessee failed to convert on third down, the Vols punted.

On the ensuing drive Hardin’s field goal gave Florida the lead for good.

”I don’t really like to say it was a breakout performance because I feel there is more to come,” Cox said. ”But I guess you could say that.”

HARDIN HAS LEG

When Hardin lined up for a potential go-ahead 49-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, you could say some had doubts the ball would split the uprights.

Hardin’s longest career make was 33 yards and he had hit only 4 of 13 field-goal attempts during his career.

Boom!

Hardin’s kick was good — and he had distance left over — for what turned out to be the game-winning score with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game.

”I thought we were going to get a delay of game but we didn’t,” Muschamp said. ”We got it off in time, and boy, he hit it.”

Hardin trotted onto the field 0-for-7 in his career on attempts of 40 yards or more. That didn’t affect his confidence.

”I knew I was going to make it,” Hardin said. ”There was a lot of wind, but going through my head, I was just thinking, ‘you’re going to make this.’ It felt pretty good.

”Things hadn’t worked out for me the way I planned starting off. I had a rough year. I just learned so much about the game from a mental aspect and how to deal with that pressure of a fourth-quarter kick.”

QUOTE OF NOTE I

”My parents went to school here, so I can always talk that trash. They both graduated from UT, so yeah, it’s a big deal. It’s a great feeling knowing that you can say in a rivalry game you never lost.” — Gators offensive lineman Chaz Green on being undefeated against Tennessee

QUOTE OF NOTE II

”The sideline was crazy. After that pick, we knew we had the game. It was just fun to see the defense seal the game because they played so hard.” — Gators running back Matt Jones on Keanu Neal’s game-clinching interception with 51 seconds left.

QUOTE OF NOTE III

”We have who we have and I love them. I’m not going to make any excuses. We didn’t get it done. We’ve got to get in the weight room. We’ve got to become stronger.” — Vols coach Butch Jones on his offensive line, which allowed six sacks and has surrendered 18 through five games

CAPPING A COMEBACK

The Gators trailed 9-0 entering the fourth quarter and appeared in danger of being shut out for the first time since a 16-0 loss to Auburn in 1988.

However, Florida rallied with a 10-point fourth quarter for a one-point win. The nine-point fourth quarter deficit was the largest the Gators have overcome to win since trailing Kentucky 21-3 in 2003.

The Gators scored 21 points in the final period to defeat the Wildcats, 24-21, in Lexington.