Harris suspension leaves Gators scary thin at QB, but that’s the price of getting this right

You can’t count on Treon Harris, and at this point I don’t even care to know the reason behind his suspension for the Tennessee game.

That leaves the start of Florida’s SEC season in the hands of Will Grier. New coach Jim McElwain will need to have him ready for a better effort than the Gators showed in last week’s 14-9 win at Kentucky. Already what we’re seeing is too reminiscent of the Will Muschamp days, with the defense always on the hook to save the day.

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators scrambles for yardage during the game against the East Carolina Pirates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 12: Treon Harris of the Florida Gators scrambles for yardage during the game against the East Carolina Pirates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Either way, McElwain has to keep grinding away at the rough edges of his team. When player discipline is needed, nothing else will do. Even if it means a few losses, even if some of Florida’s best players have to sit out, to compromise on that would be to undermine what McElwain is building for the long run.

Don’t want to hear that? Let’s dig in a little deeper, then. I don’t think Kelvin Taylor should have been carrying the ball late in the 31-24 win over East Carolina if McElwain was angry enough to scream and spew at the running back for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a few minutes earlier.

Taylor was flagged for doing a throat-slashing gesture in the end zone following the fourth-quarter touchdown run that put Florida up 31-17.

McElwain went ballistic on the sidelines while confronting Taylor. Later, before the media, the coach said, “Our lack of discipline and understanding of how you play the game crept up, and it was embarrassing. We’ve got a long ways to go. It starts with understanding selfish acts hurt the team and will be dealt with. And it’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore.”

Those words didn’t match the coach’s actions. After East Carolina scored to pull within a touchdown, Taylor was right back on the field as Florida attempted to run out the clock. Three times he took handoffs, gaining a net of 5 yards. It wasn’t enough to avoid a punt, or to avoid giving the ball right back to the Pirates, but in that situation, with a potentially disastrous home loss to an unranked opponent on the line, McElwain clearly trusted Taylor to handle the ball more than he did any other Gator running back.

Taylor didn’t miss any playing time the following week against Kentucky, either. Other than six carries by freshman Jordan Cronkrite, Taylor got every handoff in a game that was tense from start to finish.

Not saying that Kelvin, a former Glades Day star and son of Gator great Fred Taylor, should be drummed out of the corps for one stupid mistake. McElwain’s sideline show of disgust didn’t translate, however, into a clear demonstration of accountability.

Every coach struggles with weighing the importance of teaching against the fear of losing. McElwain, a head coach for all of 41 games between Colorado State and Florida, will get better at this, and at everything else.

For now it’s a matter of proving he’s serious. The suspensions of Harris and starting cornerback Jalen Tabor for the Tennessee game is a major part of that. The Gators wouldn’t have beaten the Vols last year in Knoxville without them.

[Chris Bosh’s comeback is as much mental as physical]

[Matt Moore gives Dolphins the kind of insurance other teams crave]

[Deep throws aren’t landing in Mike Wallace’s mitts in Minnesota, either]

For me, Tennessee hasn’t looked as good as everybody seemed to expect. Sure, the Vols played No. 15 Oklahoma tough in a double-overtime loss. The Sooners didn’t look like anything special last week, however, in a 52-38 win over Tulsa.

Tulsa ran up 618 total yards in a season-opening win over Florida Atlantic. Well, against Oklahoma the Golden Hurricane didn’t slow down much, totaling 603 yards and getting 427 of those on the passing of Dane Evans, who threw for four touchdowns against Oklahoma and had Tulsa within 38-31 last in the third quarter.

Put it all together and 2-1 Tennessee hasn’t done anything more amazing than Florida has to this point. It’s an even match, and one that the Gator defense could certainly wind up winning.

Harris and Tabor won’t like missing it, and McElwain won’t like missing them. There are bigger problems coming down the road, though, with Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Georgia all in a row.

It’s time to get this right, from the playbook to player attitudes. Matter of fact, the second might be more important right now.

Jim McElwain really rolled the dice by not signing a quarterback

Struck me as odd in February when new Florida coach Jim McElwain didn’t sign a quarterback. The Gators ranked 104th out of 125 Div. I teams last season in passing offense. What were they running under Will Muschamp, the wishbone?

Was McElwain thinking that Treon Harris (one game with 200-plus passing yards) or Will Grier (redshirt in 2014) could be built into something more dangerous? Possibly, but depth is essential at this most crucial of positions, and the patient preparation of young talent, too.

Jim McElwain (Getty Images)
Jim McElwain (Getty Images)

There’s also the possibility that McElwain didn’t want to sign somebody just to sign somebody. Nothing all that efficient about giving a scholarship to a guy you pray will never have to play.

Or, even better, did Big Mac have his eyes on a potential transfer quarterback or two? With his reputation for productive offensive strategies and a resume that includes developing A.J. McCarron into a two-time national championship quarterback at Alabama, McElwain and the Gators might well have seemed an attractive option for some highly-ranked passer who wasn’t playing as much as he wanted somewhere else.

[With Pat Riley, the Miami Heat are never far from raising a banner]

[If Ryan Tannehill is so lousy, Mike Wallace’s numbers should soar at Minnesota]

[SEC media preseason vote doesn’t give McElwain enough credit]

Didn’t McElwain take a quarterback with no Power-Five offers (Garrett Grayson) and push him to success at Colorado State and a spot in the NFL as a third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints? This coach definitely knows what he is doing.

The problem is that the Gators have dropped too far off the map in the SEC for McElwain or anyone else to instantly transform them into a magnet. You know, like Oregon is.

The Ducks were in the inaugural College Football Playoff, led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, and now they’ve added Vernon Adams, a graduate transfer who threw 110 touchdown passes in his career at Eastern Washington.

McElwain knows that part of the country. He knows that Adams is eligible to play right away. Matter of fact, he played quarterback at Eastern Washington himself. Yet the star quarterback at McElwain’s alma mater gave consideration to offers from Oregon, Texas and UCLA. Not Florida.

Then there was Everett Golson, the Notre Dame grad looking for a new place to play. McElwain had him in his office on the Gainesville campus for a courtesy call but Jimbo Fisher is the one who got Golson into his school and into his program. If Golson doesn’t wind up starting for Florida State this year, it will come as a surprise.

Now Ricky Town has been granted a release from USC and is looking to transfer. He will need to sit

U.S. Army All-American West's Ricky Town (18) passes against the East during the first half of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl high school football game, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Ricky Town (18) passes against the East during the first half of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl high school football game Jan. 3, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

out a year per NCAA rules wherever he goes next and, as our Anthony Chiang reports, Town may look to Florida as an option. That’s because Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a previous relationship with the player, having recruited him during an earlier stop at Alabama.

That would be good for the Gators if Town looks their way. He’s a freshman and was one of the nation’s top pro-style prospects coming out of high school.

Still, it’s mid-August, less than three weeks from McElwain’s debut as Florida coach. Too late for the cavalry to come charging in now, at least when it comes to the 2015 season.

McElwain will press ahead with the passers he’s got, still undecided between Harris and Grier, still counting on Gator fans to work with him while he works with a team that has questions and depth problems at far more positions than quarterback alone.

It may not be pretty for a while, but remember that Nick Saban, McElwain’s old boss, faced a similar challenge at Alabama. Saban’s first team in Tuscaloosa went 7-6 with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe and a 4-4 record in conference.

The good ones tough it out and they do it their way, relying on previous results as a guide. Put McElwain, who went from 4-8 to 10-2 in three seasons at Colorado State, in that category.

UPDATE: Ricky Town told ESPN on Friday morning that he will transfer to Arkansas.