Can Florida beat LSU without Will Grier?
With news breaking that Florida starting quarterback Will Grier will be suspended for the remainder of the season, Florida’s playoff hopes take a hit. To make matters worse, the Gators have less than a week to prepare backup Treon Harris for a primetime undefeated showdown against LSU.
While Grier has been the starting quarterback for the Gators, he hasn’t exactly lit it up as a passer, grading at a poor -6.6 in that regard on the season. Where Grier excels is in his ability to extend plays with his feet (+4.2 rushing grade), and in the short passing game. When kept in the pocket long, he becomes erratic and dances around too much, leading to sacks and errant throws.
In Harris, the Gators are getting a QB with experience, as he started four games a year ago, including an excellent Week 11 game against Vanderbilt. He graded positively as a runner but negatively as a passer, completing just 6 percent of passes when given a clean pocket. Harris began the season as the starter, but was suspended two games for violating team rules. This opened the door for Grier, who he didn’t let go.
Florida’s strength and identity is on defense. One of the top-graded units in the entire country, the Gators have eight defensive lineman logging more than 100 snaps, with seven of them grading very well at +4.0 or better. DE Jonathan Bullard has been dominant at stopping the run, earning the highest run-defense grade in the nation at his position. They have standouts at the second and third levels of the defense as well, in LB Jarrad Davis (+13.2, good for top-10 nationally among linebackers), SS Marcus Maye (+15.3, top-5 in the country at the position) and CB Vernon Hargreaves III (just a +2.0 this season, but our top-graded corner a year ago).
While LSU is more than just Leonard Fournette, the key to beating the Tigers is stopping the star running back — and part of that will simply be keeping him off the field. Harris will have to protect the football (three interceptions in 2014), and the Florida defense will need to play even better than they did in their demolition of Ole Miss earlier this season. Fournette ran all over the Gators defense a year ago, to the tune of 140 yards and two touchdowns—and the Gators still finished the season as our seventh-best defense.
Fournette forced 30 missed tackles all of last season, and has already reached that level through five games in 2015. While Grier’s suspension will dominant the headlines, the QB’s play was ultimately not going to make or break this game for the Gators. In reality, that will likely fall on whether or not the Florida defense can contain Fournette.