Three weeks can be a long time. A lifetime, it seems, in the coaching world.
Three weeks ago, all of Gator Nation was calling for Will Muschamp's coaching career to be served to the unemployment line on a silver platter. Now, after delivering sweet chin music to Vanderbilt this past Saturday, Florida's defense seems to be playing at the level we knew they could, underclassmen all across the board are stepping up in huge roles, and the Gators offense is ... offensive? In a good way?
Let's make one thing clear right off the bat: Vanderbilt was not good. But that doesn't mean beating the teams you should beat (not to mention the way you beat them) doesn't still feel good — a feeling that hasn't been an understood constant for Florida since Eastern Michigan in Week 1. And South Carolina is up next, then a cupcake, then the team out west. Florida could be 8-3 in two weeks' time, with a chance to take down one of the nation's best teams.
This feels good.
Last week, I argued Florida didn't necessarily establish an identity against Georgia, per se — though the offensive output was convincing — because an offensive "identity" in football must have a solidified quarterback, even if that identity is as run-heavy as Florida's is. But with 274 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against Vandy, Treon Harris has been solidified. Now the team can move forward and build, as opposed to scrambling for anything that might work. Harris' established role will allow Kurt Roper to emphasize tendencies and patterns of success from both Georgia and Vandy going into their bout with South Carolina.
After re-watching the game (even though my first time watching it wasn't live — oops), one component of every run play, whether by read-option or designed handoff, stands out: Max Garcia getting to and winning at the second level. Garcia is having one helluva year, and it's only getting better.
Here's what I'm talking about when I talk about getting to the second level.
A few elements to this play that make it a win, win, win for Garcia. The first is the chip block on the defensive tackle right at the snap. It's not something you'd notice watching in real time (some would even say maybe he was lost or stumbled), but I assure you, this small move was by design. By making initial contact, Garcia redirects the defensive tackle's first step which goes right into the chest of Florida's right guard. This now sets up the hole for Kelvin Taylor.
The second win is earned with his quickness, as Garcia gets in front of the linebacker while he has yet to make a move through the hole. In my preview piece for this game, I explained how Vanderbilt is trying to run a 3-4 with less-than-ideal middle linebackers. Without those quick instincts, a veteran offensive lineman like Garcia was able to impose his will on two defenders in one play.
Finally, Garcia is able to not only hold his block, but also hold his ground without momentum going forward. This is an example of his strength, and this touchdown run was much in part to his subtle but sizable impact. If you watch Garcia closely from now on, you'll notice the little things he does very well that allow Florida to run power so effectively.
One other really nice development for Florida on offense? The presence of a three-down running back.
But it's probably not good for the reason you might think.
LOOK AT THAT BLINDSIDE BLOCK. GAZE UPON THE FUNDAMENTALS.
There are a couple things to note from this well-executed Matt Jones block. First, Jones moves all the way across the line of scrimmage following the play action to make his assignment. That's good mobility and savvy play, something Florida doesn't get from any other back in pass protection right now.
The next is how fearless Jones is to not only take on blindside responsibilities against a defensive end, but how he didn't cop out to block him, by laying a shoulder into him or going for his legs. No, Matt Jones was all like, "I'M RIGHT HERE, DUDE. YOU WANT TREON, COME GET ME."
Last, watch how confident Harris is, even when he knows Jones was the only player protecting him. You see Harris' eyes peek to that side of the field and notice the free rusher before the snap. This kind of realization tends to cause panic in most underclassmen. Instead, Harris gracefully climbs the pocket and delivers a great throw down the field. That's top-notch chemistry and trust between quarterback and running back.
Want to get vertical on offense? That's how you do it.
Finally, let's talk about Harris himself. I'll highlight two plays that really stood out to me: one running, one passing.
The first one is obvious: It's the 33-yard run for a touchdown. The reason I highlight it is because Gators fans have been saying Jeff Driskel was holding the offense back this year because of his poor decisions in the passing game. That's true (I'll get to that), but in talking of "holding an offense back", I think of an offense at its full potential — or at least capable of reaching it, in terms of maximizing skills. Driskel's fast, but is he quick? Eh, I wouldn't say that.
Now, Treon Harris is fast, but is he quick? I'd say it's the biggest strength in his running style. In the run above, three different but powerful cuts are made on dimes to change direction. This is something Driskel never did. He was never the quick runner who could make guys miss in the open field. Harris is, and boy, is that a weapon to develop.
The second is what you've all been waiting for.
Right? Right!? Amazing, huh?
Well, good night, everybody!
...all right, I'll break down what I just forced you to watch on loop.
First, an aside: Driskel's arm strength was never his problem; it was his hesitation and reliance on a broken inner clock. A quarterback's inner clock is what he uses to determine how much time he has to get rid of the ball, even if he can't see every component of pressure being thrown at him. A rushed inner clock leads to poor throws, panic decisions, but worst of all, staring down receivers.
Cornerback coaching 101 teaches defensive backs to read the quarterback's eyes if their man doesn't force them to turn and chase. If they can keep their receiver in front of them, they can tell when to collapse and close on the ball by reading where the quarterback is looking — no-look passes aren't a thing in football. Driskel's biggest problem this year was his inability to look off initial reads because he didn't trust his line to give him more time. His inner clock was telling him to throw the ball, even if he didn't have to.
I couldn't fit everything into one screen in this Vine, but Harris's initial read is to the left, where two receivers are running to outside routes. When he realizes they're fully covered, Harris has the confidence to move his eyes all the way across the field and throw a quick, confident ball to a tight window and Quinton Dunbar.
Each game I see more from Treon Harris, and I like what he brings more and more. He has the arm talent, and right now, his confidence has him throwing great passes that we didn't see from Driskel in 2014. He's got the quickness to make plays as a runner, too. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts when his confidence is shaken for the first time (most likely against FSU in Doak).
But if he responds well to adversity, and progresses beyond that, I think he is going to be Florida's quarterback for the next three years.