The Florida Gators suffered a tough loss to LSU in the Swamp on Saturday night on a last second 50 yard field goal. In a game where the Gators had every opportunity to win, once again they found a way to lose with quarterback Jeff Driskel throwing a horrible interception as the Gators were driving in an attempt to break a 27 all tie with under a minute to play.
With the loss, embattled head coach Will Muschamp’s coaching seat only got hotter, especially with disgruntled fans who are tired of seeing the team make the same old mistakes.
Similarly, the cries from those same fans for starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to be benched in favor of true freshman Treon Harris only got louder in the aftermath of Saturday night.
On the Muschamp front, fans have taken to Twitter and sports message boards to not only vent their frustration but also to discuss possible replacements. While the usual names get bandied about, the fan favorite at this point comes from an unlikely place: Mississippi State.
That’s right, Bulldogs head coach and former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is the guy that would likely top a fan poll of a replacement coach were Muschamp to be fired. While it may not seem too out there considering he did win two national titles as OC under Urban Meyer at Florida, his career record at MSU coming into this season was only 36-28 and he was considered to be on the hot seat himself.
One fan has even gone so far as to start a website called wewantdan.com dedicated to giving all the reasons why Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley should hire Dan Mullen.
For those longing to see Dan Mullen or anybody else coaching the Gators next season, it’s time to come back down to earth. For one, Mullen likely will parlay the Bulldogs’ great season and rise to a number one national ranking into a lucrative contract extension. The days of the Gators stealing coaches from schools like MSU are over. Over bloated fan expectations and short leashes certainly do not help. Besides, Gator fans weren’t exactly heaping high praise on Mullen when he was here the first time.
Secondly, and more importantly, to paraphrase an old saying, the news of coach Muschamp’s demise are greatly exaggerated. In other words, Will isn’t going anywhere, this season or next. That is short of a total collapse.
According to Zach Abolverdi, the Gators recruiting beat writer for the Gainesville Sun, Foley confided in a Gator commit that there are no plans to can Muschamp.
As far as those calling for true freshman Treon Harris to take over as starting quarterback in place of Jeff Driskel, the news is more mixed. During Muschamp’s Monday media session, he announced that the Gators will work with a two-quarterback system moving forward.
For this week’s home game versus SEC East division foe Missouri, Jeff Driskel will once again start, to many fans dismay, but Treon will definitely play.
“They both will play this week, and we’ll work through the week, and we’ll see how things go and we’ll see how it goes from there,” Muschamp said, “Right now, Jeff [Driskel] will probably start, but they’re both going to play.”
It remains to be seen, however, exactly how this platoon system will actually work. Will they alternate series? Will Treon have specific number of series. What if Jeff gets off to a good start, will Treon actually get some time or will they stick with Driskel? If he struggles once again, how quickly will the staff make the change? Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper admitted on Tuesday that they haven’t yet decided how to implement the dual qb system.
“We haven’t decided on how it’s exactly going to go yet.”
Even Driskel himself is unsure of exactly how it will work.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out but if it’s best for the team then I’m for it,” Driskel said on Monday.
For his part, this is uncharted waters for Jeff but he’s confident it will work.
“No, I never have [played in a two quarterback system],” Driskel said. “But it’s worked for a lot of people so there’s nothing to say that it won’t work for us.”
The purpose of going to a two quarterback scheme at this point is simple. The staff wants to find a spark to jump start a struggling offense that has shown some signs of life at times but has been erratic and inconsistent.
“I think the goal is to score points, to win games,” Roper said. “So it’s simply decisions being made to find a way to put points on the board.”
What does Jeff think about the plan to split playing time with Harris?
“Treon and I are both going to work hard this week,” Driskel said. “We’re both going to work for each other. We’re both going to hope that the other person does well when they’re in. Obviously that’s something that we think that can help the team so if it’s going to help the team I’m all for it.”
“Believe it or not I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the team. I want the team to play well, and if it’s [two quarterback system] going to help the team play well, I’m all for it.”
Despite his erratic play this season and very vocal opposition from the fan base, Jeff remains confident in his ability to lead the team.
“Just because I haven’t made all the plays I would have liked to this year doesn’t mean I’m not confident,” he said. “I’m still confident in my ability, confident in what I can do and what I can do for this team. I don’t think my confidence has ever been shaken.”
Although Treon Harris is only a true freshman, Muschamp has expressed confidence in his abilities.
“[Treon’s] a guy that has shown the ability to make some plays,” he said. “You take the ball in the right spots, accurate with his passes, has a certain confidence about him.”
“In practice, that’s something that really jumps out at you. It’s his playmaking ability to be able to make those things happen.”
Roper was very succinct in his appraisal of what Harris offers.
“The best way I can say it is he finds a way to make plays. He seems to be a playmaker.”
“He is a guy that can run the football and is good in space and you saw that in the Tennessee game,” Roper added.
And it was very apparent during the Tennessee game where Harris came on in relief of an ineffective Driskel to lead the team to a come from behind victory that he provided an emotional spark to the stagnant offense. Perhaps the bigger question is what effect a two quarterback system might have on the team and it’s psyche. Will it cause dissension among the players similar to what happened two years ago when Jacoby Brissett was battling with Driskel for the starting spot? Jeff doesn’t think so.
“We’re confident in Treon but I think the guys are confident in me as well,” Driskel said. “So it’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that. We have mature guys that can handle it.”
With Harris missing all of last week due to a suspension while he was being investigated for a sexual battery accusation before the accuser withdrew the complaint, will that set him back any as far as being ready to play this week against Missouri?
“It’s tough,” Driskel said. “But in college football there’s so much game plan[ning] that’s specific for one team, so I think that he’ll be fine with a full week of preparation for Missouri.”
Roper made it clear he understands the challenge of preparing Harris for game action despite missing a week of practice.
“We’ve got to make up some ground obviously but I think we’ve got time to do that,” Roper said. “We got him back really yesterday. He did some good things, did some bad things. It wasn’t his best day of practice that he’s had. He’s a guy I enjoy coaching because he goes out there to get better every day. Works hard and great effort.”
“The challenge is what is he capable of being successful with and try to put him in those situations as much as we can.”
Muschamp believes Harris will be ready to play and thinks his teammates have confidence in him as well.
“He’s got a certain persona about himself. That’s why in his last two years at Booker T. he was 30-0. That tells you something about him. He’s a winner. He certainly has a persona about him.”
Another true freshman that Muschamp has a lot of confidence in is running back Brandon Powell. He got a lot of touches last Saturday against LSU in both the running game and passing game and is expected to see more against Missouri.
“Brandon Powell obviously is a playmaker,” Muschamp said. “He plays extremely well in space,” He’s very reliable in protection. He catches the ball extremely well. He’s a very smart football player.”
With nine total touches (3 rushes, 6 receptions) for 72 total yards, Powell was featured in the LSU game more than any other player not named Jeff Driskel. It was by design and the results were undeniable.
“I thought Brandon made a lot of plays as the game went on,” Roper said.
He was even head scratchingly utilized on an inside zone run down on the goal line despite his smallish stature (listed as 5-9 177) leaving much bigger backs Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown, and Hunter Joyer on the bench.
“We ran inside zone,” Roper explained when asked about why they ran Powell on the goal line rather than putting some bigger backs into the lineup. “Brandon Powell is a little lighter physical guy, tough guy. We felt really good with the ball in his hand. He had been playing a lot of football. He had been in on that series and made some plays so that was the decision that we made at that point to put it in his hands. So we felt pretty confident we knew what we were going to get schematically and it was what we felt was our best thought was at that point.”
Jeff Driskel is very impressed with Powell’s ability despite being a true freshman and Gators fans can certainly expect to see more and more of him as the staff looks for ways to continue getting him the ball in space.
“He’s a really smart football player,” according to Jeff Driskel. “Understands what we’re doing. He has great hands out of the backfield. He’s always going to be in the right position. He’s a good player, obviously he needs to develop more, but he’s somebody that we’re confident in when he’s back there.”
While Powell was featured in the offense against LSU, another player, sophomore Kelvin Taylor, spent much of the game sitting on the bench despite starting the game at running back, much to the dismay of many Gator fans. He finished the game with 2 carries and zero yards.
Taylor himself appeared to be a little upset about his lack of playing time. Shortly after the game a firestorm was started on Twitter after Taylor retweeted a couple of fan tweets about lack of playing time and possibly transferring as a result. Those have since been removed but can be seen on a screenshot Tweeted by Zach Abolverdi.
Roper explained on Tuesday why Taylor saw limited action.
“We had a protection issue early in the game, in those situations it affects thought process through the game.”
The protection issue referred to was a third down play on the Gators opening drive when Taylor was slow reacting to an edge blitzer to his right and he ended up running into Driskel as he was throwing the ball to an open receiver in the blitzer’s vacated zone. The ball fell incomplete and stopped a promising drive.
“Kelvin’s got to do a better job of recognizing the SAM’s coming and get over there faster and manage that,” Roper commented. “We felt like we had a good chance to convert a third down right there.”
The issue was actually discussed in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback Post on Swamp Music.
While Taylor has been a favorite since committing to the Gators two years ago and may very well be the Gators best pure running back, he continues to have issues with protection that make it difficult for the staff to have confidence in him.
“He is really good with the ball in his hand,” Roper said. “There’s no doubt about that. He’s a guy that when you hand it to him he does a good job but you’ve got to be able to manage the rest of the package.”
“It’s not just about carrying the ball,” Muschamp reiterated. “There’s protection and there’s a lot of things that are involved with being a running back and those are things to me.”
And oddly it’s the other “things” that have given the true freshman Powell a leg up over sophomore Taylor in terms of playing time of late.
“[We are] utilizing the running back as a pass catcher in a lot of situations, and Brandon’s a guy that’s got really good hands and he’s a guy that we trust a little bit more in the passing game, which he showed you he’s very good at that end in space.”