Gators freshman Treon Harris performing well so far
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The locker room door would swing open, another Gators player or coach would appear, grab a boxed dinner on a table near the exit, and then begin the long march across the field at Vanderbilt Stadium toward their buses.
As offensive coordinator Kurt Roper started his walk, he looked over at the group of Florida beat reporters shivering in the cool Tennessee night.
Roper then tossed a winning quote their way.
"Hey, we completed a forward pass,” Roper quipped.
A week after passing only six times and running 60 in a blast-from-the-past upset over Georgia, the Gators altered their approach in a 34-10 victory against the Commodores.
Making his second career start, true freshman quarterback Treon Harris threw 21 times. He completed 13 for a career-high 215 yards. He didn’t throw any interceptions.
In addition to his passing, Harris iced the game with a pair of rushing touchdowns (7 and 33 yards) in the fourth quarter, finishing with 264 yards of total offense (49 rushing yards).
It was exactly the kind of efficient performance the Gators needed from Harris, whose most impressive statistic early in his career is this: 2-0 as Florida’s starting quarterback.
"He’s a guy that’s overly coachable," Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. "The game comes easy to him."
Muschamp and Roper and Harris’ teammates have been saying that ever since Harris came off the bench to lead the Gators to comeback win at Tennessee five weeks ago.
As Harris plays more and more, it’s starting to become apparent that what they have been saying is on point.
He looks the part — and plays it, too — of a winner.
There’s no more important quality in a quarterback — not arm strength nor field vision nor quick feet — than that intangible often referred to as the "it factor."
"He showed us how to calm down and not to panic and stuff like that, because we look at him and he’s just telling us to be calm," junior running back Matt Jones said. "When he threw a bad ball, he told us, ‘we got this, we got this, just chill.’ We believe him. He definitely calms us down a lot."
Harris has not only calmed down his teammates, but in the first two starts of his career, he has had a calming effect on Gator Nation as well.
Following a 42-13 loss to Missouri on Oct. 18, the mood around the Gators was bleak.
Questions about Muschamp’s job security dominated the airwaves and message boards. The offense looked lost. The season appeared headed the same direction barring a surprise.
And then Harris took over for Jeff Driskel as the starting quarterback.
Driskel still has a role — he scored the go-ahead touchdown Saturday by leaping for a 1-yard score at the goal line — but Harris is now running the offense.
No one is ready to anoint Harris as a Heisman candidate next season, but it’s clear the two-time state champion from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High can lead.
"He’ll continue to get better and continue to improve," Muschamp said. "We’ve got all the confidence in the world in him moving forward. The thing that strikes me is the maturity. He does not get fazed."
Harris showed off his poise and accuracy against the Commodores.
Of his 13 completions, eight were good for first downs. He completed a 48-yarder to Ahmad Fulwood in the first half and hit Quinton Dunbar for a 60-yard pass in the second half.
And while he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, his 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter provided the Gators with some breathing room and a 24-7 lead. His 33-yard score later in the quarter showed off his ability to make big plays with his feet.
While Harris was not available to talk to the media afterward, his teammates spoke glowingly about him.
"He’s special," defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III said. "He’s a special player. For a freshman to come in a do just whatever the coaches ask of him, whether it’s hand the ball off 56 times or throw the ball however many times he did today, he does it e does it at a high level and it’s impressive from a freshman."
The next test for Harris comes next weekend when South Carolina visits The Swamp.
For the Gators to keep their hopes alive of an SEC East title, first, they must defeat the Gamecocks. They also will need help as the season plays out.
And with former Gators coach Steve Spurrier calling plays for South Carolina, one of the conference’s top offenses, Harris likely will have to make more big plays like he did in Saturday’s victory.
Harris has proven up for whatever has been asked.
"He’s got a competitive edge about him," Muschamp said. "That’s a talent. It’s hard to measure competitive edge until you get into the situations, and he has the competitive edge about him."
After mixed results with John Brantley, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy and Driskel running the offense in his four seasons, Muschamp has turned the keys over to Harris.
So far, it’s a winning move.