Harris steps in, No. 11 Florida stays on track in SEC East
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida quarterback Treon Harris is a backyard baller.
He’s an elusive scrambler. He’s accurate on the run. He’s got a knack for turning busted plays into big gains.
He’s 6-3 as a starter in two seasons and another victory Saturday against Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3 SEC) would put the 11th-ranked Gators back in the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time since 2009.
“His weapons that he brings are a little different and maybe not the usual thing a quarterback does, but he can do a lot of good things,” tight end Jake McGee said.
In two games since replacing suspended starter Will Grier, Harris has thrown for 426 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has run for 59 yards. He has been sacked seven times and fumbled once, but he’s done considerably more good than bad.
He gave the Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC) a chance to upset unbeaten LSU three weeks ago and delivered several key plays in a win against rival Georgia last week. His biggest came in the second quarter, when he rolled left and found Antonio Callaway down the sideline for a 66-yard touchdown that ended a streak of nine consecutive incompletions and really got the Gators going.
“Treon has got a great understanding of where guys are going to be,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s been a positive for us, obviously, and we hope that it continues.”
Harris also scrambled for three first downs against the Bulldogs, including twice on third-down plays.
“He is doing a wonderful job of extending plays,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We’re going to look to cage the rabbit the best we can.”
Harris’ game isn’t always attractive, but it is usually effective. Teammates simply say he’s just got something special that helps keep drives alive.
“The guy trusts his legs,” running back Kelvin Taylor said. “He’s a very mobile quarterback and he knows how to throw on the run.”
The two main knocks on Harris are his size — he’s listed at 5 feet, 11 inches — and his completion percentage. His less-than-ideal height makes seeing the middle of the field more challenging. It also could factor into his accuracy.
The sophomore from Miami has completed 52.4 percent of his passes.
“It’s not good,” McElwain said. “Shaquille O’Neal might have liked it for his free-throw percentage, but ... Here’s the interesting thing: We’re going to pick this apart. That’s great. You got to do what you got to do. But I think at the end of the day, we were on the right side of the scoreboard. We did what it took to win the ballgame. And that’s how we go into every ballgame.”
O’Neal actually hit 52.7 percent from the free-throw line during his 19-year NBA career.
“So I really disrespected Shaq because he’s better,” McElwain said. “I apologize for that.”
Harris’ limitations are just a few of deficiencies the Gators have overcome this season to be on the cusp of the Eastern Division crown. The offensive line has been mediocre at best, the running game has been inconsistent, receivers have disappeared at times and the kicking game has been as much miss as hit.
“The one thing you do as an organization is you figure out your positives and you try to play to those,” McElwain said. “I don’t ever look at them really as negatives. I look at them as, ‘OK, this might happen, so what’s the answer?’”
With Grier out after testing positive for performing-enhancing drugs, Harris is the answer. And the Gators expect the backyard baller to be even better, even if unconventional, down the stretch.
“One thing he’s done an outstanding job of is understanding the importance of taking care of the football,” McElwain said. “He’s confident in what he’s doing. He’s done a really good job of learning the plans and we’ll continue to grow with him and our team believes in him. That’s something that’s invaluable with the quarterback position.”
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