Will Muschamp isn't much for telling people what they want to hear. He added a new line to that part of his resume on Wednesday, sticking by embattled starting quarterback Jeff Driskel in a bye-week meeting with media amid cries for him to be replaced by freshman Treon Harris.
The torch and pitchfork social media mob taking aim at Driskel will not get the quarterback switch it’s screaming for. Driskel did not play well at Alabama, going just 9-for-28 for 93 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Muschamp, though, said he’s sticking with his fourth-year junior -- rather than turning to true freshman Treon Harris -- with the understanding and acknowledgement Driskel has to play better.
"I think he’d be the first person to tell you that," Muschamp said, adding Driskel probably had four or five forced throws that should have been safety-valve check-downs, missed receivers on some deep balls for the second straight game, and also was hurt by some drops. "But Jeff needs to play better, he understands that. He certainly forced some things that we can’t afford to do, and especially the two interceptions."
But Muschamp did hint at a larger role for Harris going forward.
"He continues to improve and continues to do some nice things," said Muschamp, adding the plan for Harris, game to game, is to get him ready for opportunities. "We’d like to have him get some snaps, depending on the situation in the game. But he had a good [practice] day Tuesday, I’m very pleased with some things he did. But Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win right now."
Florida's stuck between a rock and a hard place, with fans absolutely fed up with Driskel's inefficiency as a passer — and, I suspect, primarily blaming him and Muschamp for 13 frustrating months of football — and Muschamp's belief in Driskel's chances of piloting Florida to victory. But, despite popular outcry for starting a true freshman who has thrown two passes and played just 16 snaps as a college quarterback, Florida now faces a series of must-win games in its SEC schedule: The coming three-game stretch that features a road trip to Tennessee followed by home contests against LSU and Missouri will likely either reinstall Florida as a contender in the SEC East or send the Gators into a tailspin that would cost Muschamp his job.
I don't know that Muschamp's right about Driskel giving Florida a better chance to win than Harris, but I don't know that he's wrong, either — and the truth, if we're being honest, is that no one knows, because we don't yet know how Harris — or fellow freshman Will Grier, who slipped behind Harris late in fall camp, did not travel to Alabama because of back spasms, and seems likely to not be a factor at QB for Florida in 2014 — would respond to playing a full game, or a substantial part of one against a first-team defense. (Harris's stint on the field as more than a package player against Eastern Michigan came with a 50-point lead, you may recall.)
As fans, we're pretty sure we know Driskel's level of competence as a starter is low, and certainly have plenty of evidence to support that. But Harris's performance as a starter is an unknown quantity serving as a vessel for a brew of toxic resent and a little hope — and Florida's coaches, who are working off more information about both Driskel and Harris than is available to the public, are clearly more hesitant about prematurely sipping from that cup than the thirsty Gators fan base is.
In any case, the bright lights that typically shine on whomever suits up and plays quarterback for Florida have rarely been as well-calibrated to wilt the player they spotlight as they are at this moment.