Without Grier, Harris returns to spotlight for No. 8 Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (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 on Saturday night won't be a total shock for the eighth-ranked Gators, who will be without suspended quarterback Will Grier for the rest of the season. It might even back up McElwain's insistence that he had two quarterbacks capable of winning in the Southeastern Conference.
''I hope it looks better,'' McElwain said Monday when asked whether the offense will look the same with Harris taking snaps. ''We didn't produce much in the second half (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 (5-0, 3-0 SEC).
Harris, who was suspended for Florida's game against Tennessee, has completed 19 of 27 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns this season. He also had 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.''
The Gators (6-0, 4-0) might not want Harris scrambling too often or taking too many hits. After all, they have little depth behind him. Former Vanderbilt quarterback/receiver Josh Grady will serve as Florida's backup. Grady has thrown eight passes in four seasons and two of those resulted in interceptions.
''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 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.''
Florida, which declined to reveal the banned supplement, will appeal in hopes of getting Grier's suspension reduced.
Regardless of the outcome, it's the latest in a recent string of quarterback issues for Florida before playing the Tigers.
Harris would have started in place of Jeff Driskel last year against LSU, but he was suspended the week of the game while the state attorney's office investigated a sexual assault complaint against him. The complaint was later withdrawn, but Harris missed practice all week and didn't play.
In 2011, third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett made his first career start at LSU - a last-minute surprise - while John Brantley and Driskel both sat out with injuries.
Two years before that, the status of former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was in doubt all week because of a concussion. Tebow ended up starting and throwing the only touchdown in a 13-3 victory.
Tebow had other problems before the 2007 game. He had to change his cellphone number after LSU fans left him hundreds of messages that included physical threats and foul language.
So Harris getting thrust back into the starting lineup is par for the series.
''He's really ready,'' Gators tight end Jake McGee said. ''He's a heck of a quarterback who has been in a lot of big games. He's a heck of a player. ... He's a guy that I don't think there will be much of a drop-off. He's a big-time player.''