Florida quarterback Will Grier’s yearlong suspension for testing positive for a banned substance shrouds the Gators’ surprise 2015 campaign into uncertainty.
Or, at least, that’s the easy conclusion to reach.
In the past on this site, I’ve posited that football analysis too often boils down to quarterbacks. It’s more of an issue among NFL media, where I sometimes wonder if pundits wouldn’t rather see quarterbacks play games of one-on-one.
Still, too much credit and too much blame are often assigned to college quarterbacks, as well. Certainly there are quarterbacks whose play is a primary factor in a team’s success, but others are skilled in taking advantage of the situations in which they are placed.
This may not come as relief to Gator fans standing on the ledge following Will Grier’s suspension and tearful address to media Monday. After all, this is a program with five years of quarterback struggles dating back to Tim Tebow’s exit from Gainesville.
But Will Grier was put in positions to succeed more than his predecessors, the result of Florida’s total team and coaching efforts. That might seem dismissive given his 24-of-29, four-touchdown effort in Florida’s marquee defeat of Ole Miss.
Rewind a few weeks, and the prospect of the Gators losing Grier isn’t such an earth-shattering development. Save the Week 1 romp over body-bag opponent New Mexico State, Grier’s completion percentage was sub-60 in three straight games — three games in which he also threw interceptions.
Grier went without a touchdown in the offensively anemic, 14-9 defeat of Kentucky, and the Florida offense sputtered as a whole for three-and-a-half quarters the following week against Tennessee.
A pair of late touchdowns made him the hero — and the credit was certainly deserved. But having Antonio Calloway making plays didn’t hurt.
Florida’s defense and special teams, as well as some Tennessee blunders late, put the Gators in position to capitalize.
The same elements that made Grier successful leading up to his breakout vs. Ole Miss will be there to ease Treon Harris into the job.
Entering the season, Grier and Harris were locked in a competition that carried over into the first few weeks. Harris split snaps in Week 1, and he saw significant opportunities in Week 2.
An interesting what-if to ponder: Had he not been serving a one-game suspension against Tennessee, might Harris have seen snaps amid Florida’s offensive stagnation? Harris had taken over for Jeff Driskel against Tennessee in 2014, helping the Gators to win then.
Speaking of Driskel, the transferred Gator quarterback returns to SEC action this week when Louisiana Tech plays Mississippi State.
Driskel’s been great for the Bulldogs, passing for 11 touchdowns and rushing for five more. He had arguably his best individual game in an overtime loss at Kansas State, throwing for 315 yards and a touchdown and running for 42 yards and two scores.
Just moments before Will Grier’s suspension was announced, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen made a comment about Driskel that might add some perspective on Florida’s suddenly dire situation.
Mullen says Jeff Driskel was unjustly blamed for a lot of things at Florida.
— Ben Wait (@bcwait) October 12, 2015
Just as Driskel was not singularly responsible for Florida’s struggles in his time with the Gators, Grier is hardly the sole driver of the Gators’ unexpected success. How the nation’s No. 12 rushing defense handles presumptive Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette will define Saturday’s game against LSU more than anything.