(AP) – Florida quarterback Treon Harris was never really out of the mix.
Coach Jim McElwain regretted keeping Harris on the bench in a 14-9 win at Kentucky last month and got him on the field briefly in each of the last two games.
So starting Harris at No. 6 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC) on Saturday night won’t be a total shock for the eighth-ranked Gators (6-0, 4-0), who will be without suspended quarterback Will Grier for the rest of the season.
While there will be questions about how well Harris will fill in for Grier, LSU coach Les Miles is starting to get some answers about how competent his passing attack can be with first-year starter Brandon Harris.
When asked whether the offense will look the same with Harris taking snaps, McElwain said ”I hope it looks better.”
”We didn’t produce much in the second half (of last Saturday’s 21-3 win at Missouri), so the expectation is to be better every week.”
McElwain nitpicked Grier’s performances in each of his five starts, saying he rushed throws, missed open receivers and left points on the field.
McElwain surely will do the same to Harris, who started the season opener and came off the bench the following week against East Carolina. Harris hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass since. That will change against the Tigers.
Harris, who was suspended for Florida’s win over Tennessee on Sept. 26, has completed 19 of 27 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 63 yards rushing and no turnovers.
”We were putting things in for him as we kind of go,” McElwain said. ”Going into this, I felt that we’ve had two really good quarterbacks. Now it’s Treon’s opportunity to take the reins and run with it. He’ll do a great job. … Obviously he has a different skill set. He can do some things with his feet that are different.”
Grier was suspended Monday for one year for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Grier failed an NCAA drug test in the last two weeks and said Monday he took an over-the-counter supplement that ”had something in it.” He apologized and said he hopes ”people can learn from this.”
”We’ve got to move forward and we’ve got to all get behind Treon and rally him up and tell him he’s got our support,” defensive tackle Jon Bullard said. ”I’m really not worried about it honestly. He’s a gamer. He’s showed that. He’s proved it. … 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.”’
Grier’s suspension wasn’t the only one within the program this week. Freshman defensive back Deiondre Porter, one of the team’s top special teams players, was banned indefinitely Thursday following his arrest a day earlier on four felony charges.
The Gators have lost the last two meetings with LSU, falling 30-27 at home last season on a 50-yard field goal with 3 seconds left.
Treon Harris and Brandon Harris have never appeared in this series, and Brandon Harris enters off the best performance of his two-year career.
Because South Carolina was able to contain star running back Leonard Fournette for much of last Saturday’s game, LSU needed more production from Harris – and got it. He set career highs with 18 completions, 28 attempts and 228 yards while throwing for two touchdowns in a 45-24 rout.
”If teams stack up on Fournette, the opportunity to score in the air will be there,” Miles said. ”If there are a lot of guys in the box, there will be the opportunity to make the throw. Brandon is beginning to understand the position. Quarterback is all about control. It is a much more cerebral position.”
Fournette finished with 158 rushing yards, but that was a season low for him and more than half came on an 87-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Outside of that carry, Fournette picked up 71 yards on 19 attempts.
The Tigers actually had more passing yards (135) than rushing yards (103) in the first two quarters. Harris was 5 of 5 for 93 yards in the second half when LSU wore down the Gamecocks with its deep running back corps.
”We knew the whole week with the coverage South Carolina was playing we were going to have to be sharp,” Harris said. ”They’ve got a four-man rush, so you’ve got to hold the back and just let those windows open up.
”That game didn’t do anything for my confidence. These coaches have a lot of confidence in me. We haven’t trailed until this game, so there hasn’t been really a need to throw the ball. We don’t need to say we need to pass the ball more. We’ve done everything we had to do and we’re 5-0.”
Meanwhile, Miles downplayed the Gators’ change at quarterback.
”I assume they will still have a very capable guy,” Miles said. ”I would expect that their core plays will be the same. That will not change. We will prepare in the same way. They will just have a different quarterback doing things now.”