Even with the three-game losing streak to end the season, it’s clear that Jim McElwain has generated momentum in his first year in Gainesville with a 10-win season, an SEC East title, and now what appears to be an outstanding recruiting class in the making.
But, one can’t help but wonder how much more momentum the Gators would have right now (and how much more buzz would be surrounding this program) if Will Grier had not screwed up by taking a performance-enhancing substance banned by the NCAA. His careless, selfish decision altered the course of the season, and obviously changed the direction of the offense.
Before the NCAA suspended him for a calendar year, Grier was really starting to grasp McElwain’s offense and the 6-0 Gators were getting better every week on that side of the ball. Once Grier was suspended, McElwain pretty much suspended the offensive playbook the Gators were starting to grow comfortable with (especially in the downfield passing game) in the first half of the season.
Over the second half of the season, McElwain had to scale back (and in some instances eliminate) many of the things he likes to do in his offense with a drop-back passer. Treon Harris, as we have all seen, is not comfortable in the role of pocket passer, so the coaches were restricted in what they could even attempt to try on offense. The results were not good. The offense regressed over the final eight games of the season. Momentum was lost on that side of the ball.
Had Grier remained eligible and the offense had continued to grow and improve under him, maybe the Gators beat Florida State in The Swamp. Maybe they throw a huge scare into Alabama. Maybe they finish the finish in the top 10. And maybe it’s easier to sell McElwain’s offense to some of these dynamic offensive recruits who have seemed reluctant to pull the trigger for the Gators.
One thing seems certain, McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier aren’t showing offensive recruits tape of the second half of the season. There’s not much there. To give them an idea what the offense is going to look like (maybe even as soon as this spring), they have to go back to those first six games when Grier was the quarterback.
In the spring, the quarterback competition will be wide open between Harris, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio, graduate transfer Austin Appleby and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. The winner of that competition will be a better fit for what McElwain likes to do on offense, and it will generate some momentum going into the summer.
Certainly, the Gators currently have some momentum coming out of the 10-win season and winning the East. But they could have so much more — if not for one player’s careless and selfish mistake.
So, don’t blame Treon Harris for the problems on offense in the second half of the season. Blame the quarterback who wasn’t there.