But with his team’s season on the ropes and his future at UF on the line, Muschamp felt it was time to replace his struggling veteran quarterback with freshman Treon Harris.
“We've struggled with production at the quarterback position,” Muschamp said during the weekly SEC coaches teleconference. “That's been an issue for us, along with others. But that's been a huge issue for us. He's a guy [Harris] that has a knack for making plays. He's got a much better understanding as we continue to move forward.
“We've got an open week now where he's getting a bunch of reps. Jeff's still going to have a role on our football team as a quarterback. Right now we feel like that was the best move moving forward.”
Driskel has 12 turnovers during the past four games, including six during consecutive losses to LSU and Missouri.
Looking to ignite UF’s offense, coaches turned to a two-quarterback rotation during last Saturday’s 42-13 homecoming loss to Missouri. The Gators trailed 20-0 and had just 66 yards of offense at halftime, but coaches decided to go with Driskel because of his experience and knowledge of the offense.
After Missouri returned a fumble and an interception by Driskel for touchdowns to stake a 42-0 lead, coaches benched him. Harris entered the game and threw for a touchdown and ran for another one to prevent UF’s first shutout loss since 1988.
“You saw what he did late in the game,” Muschamp said. “He has a knack for making plays and making some good things happen.”
Harris will handle all the first-team snaps this week while the Gators look to establish an identity on offense. UF averages just 15.6 points during regulation of five SEC games.
He has impressed during limited action this season. When Harris is in the game, the Gators have outscored opponents 37-0, during appearances against Eastern Michigan, Tennessee and Missouri.
Harris has played only once, however, when a game’s outcome is undecided. On Oct. 4, Harris rallied the Gators’ to a 10-9 win at Tennessee after he replaced Driskel late in the third quarter with UF trailing 9-0.
Harris posted modest statistics against the Vols — 2-of-4 passing for 17 yards and 24 rushing yards — but he lifted the energy of the Gators’ lackluster offense. Harris was poised to play the following week against LSU until he was linked to sexual battery allegations that led UF to suspend him. His accuser dropped the charges five days later and Harris was reinstated on the team.
The Missouri game was Harris’ first action since Tennessee. The freshman looked shaky early on last week, fumbling on his first series when he was sacked. Harris later threw an ill-advised interception on a deep pass.
But Harris, 19, also moved the offense, culminating with 15-play, 82-play touchdown drive in the game’s final seven minutes.
Now Harris will be asked to lead the reeling Gators against SEC East leader Georgia (6-1, 4-1) with the game solely in his hands. The Miami native has show elusiveness in the pocket, accuracy and play-making ability. He also arrived in June and does not have a full grasp of the offense.
Muschamp said Driskel will continue to have a role because his experience is an asset. Driskel has started 21 games at UF.
“We’ll continue to move forward with Jeff playing a role on our football team as a quarterback,” Muschamp said, “and what that role will be we’ll see moving forward.”