LSU’s game against Florida on Saturday will have something in common with the Tigers’ last three: the opposing team will start a backup quarterback
The Gators announced Monday that starting quarterback Will Grier is suspended after failing an NCAA drug test – substantial news dropped just five days before an undefeated, top-10 clash in Tiger Stadium.
The news sent waves through the college football world ahead of the primetime meeting Saturday between No. 6 LSU (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern) and No. 8 Florida (6-0, 4-0).
For the Tigers, it’s more of the same: They get the backup. In this case, dual-threat sophomore Treon Harris.
LSU has faced a backup or third-string quarterback in each of the last three games.
South Carolina’s Perry Orth began the season as the Gamecocks’ No. 3 QB, but got the start against LSU because of injuries to Connor Mitch and then backup Lorenzo Nunez. Eastern Michigan’s Brogan Roback replaced injured starter Reginald Bell for the game against LSU, and Syracuse started fourth string guy Zack Mahoney after injuries to others.
“It just looks like it might be going our way,” linebacker Lamar Louis said Monday.
The last true No. 1 quarterback that LSU faced: Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, who was demoted after the Tigers’ 45-21 win.
At least a couple of LSU players learned the news of Grier’s suspension during interview sessions with reporters on Monday afternoon, just two hours after the news broke. First reports of Grier’s suspension began trickling out just before coach Les Miles met with reporters for his annual press conference.
School officials informed Miles of the news just before he took the podium.
“I’m certain they’ll have a very capable guy,” Miles said on the situation. “We’ll go back and see who that is. Certainly, we’ll prepare for him and prepare for what will be Florida’s best because I know Coach McElwain will have them ready to play.”
Grier, a Davidson, North Carolina, native, has completed 106 passes in 161 attempts (an SEC-leading 65.8 percent) for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s thrown just three interceptions. The second-ranked QB in the 2014 class, Grier took over for Harris as the starter in the second game of the season. Harris, a native of Miami, is 19 of 27 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He’s played in four of the Gators’ six games, and, oddly enough, was expected to start against LSU last season before a suspension on Monday of game week.
Jeff Driskel started in place of Harris in the Tigers’ wild 30-27 win at Florida last October.
This matchup is much bigger.
The Tigers and Gators are two of the last three undefeated teams in the conference – both atop their respected division halfway through the season. It’s a Saturday night showdown scheduled for an ESPN audience that’s in high demand.
The game is completely sold out, the school announced Monday, and some tickets in the secondary market are priced as high as $1,100.
“This is Tiger Stadium at its best,” Miles said.
It’s the renewal of an annual rivalry. Florida and LSU have met every year since 1971. It’s a close, intense battle of, usually, highly ranked foes. The two are meeting as ranked teams for the 13th time in the last 15 years – the fourth time as top-10 squads.
The Gators will have to do it without their starter.
Grier said he consumed an over-the-counter supplement that contained a banned substance. During an emotional press conference Monday, Grier apologized, and McElwain called it an “honest mistake.”
“Now it’s Treon’s opportunity to take the reins and run with it,” McElwain said. “He’ll do a great job.”
LSU players had not received their defensive game plan for Florida from coaches before the Grier news broke so it changes nothing from their stand point, said Louis.
“We’re going into it fresh,” he said.
It’s not all about the quarterback, linebacker Deion Jones said. Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, the son of former NFL star tailback Fred Taylor, has run for 438 yards and seven scores. Taylor is suffering from an ankle sprain but many expect him to play.
“They’re not undefeated just because of a quarterback,” Jones said. “They have other key players that play a big role on their team. We have to be ready for whoever they put in there. They have a great back, too. Have to prepare for that.”
In a pinch
For the fourth consecutive game, LSU will face a backup quarterback:
Opponent Preseason starter vs. LSU LSU Result
Syracuse Terrel Hunt Zack Mahoney W, 34-24
Hunt’s season ended almost before it started as he tore his Achilles’ tendon in the first game against Rhode Island and was replaced by backup Eric Dungey. But Dungey suffered a head injury a week before the game with LSU, which forced the Orange to start Mahoney, a fourth-string walk-on.
E. Michigan Reginald Bell Brogan Roback W, 44-22
Bell started the season opener against Old Dominion and threw a pair of touchdown passes before suffering a jaw injury. A sophomore, Bell has not played since the injury although Roback has performed admirably in his absence with 1,242 passing yards and nine touchdowns.
South Carolina Connor Mitch Perry Orth W, 45-24
Orth is actually South Carolina’s third-string quarterback, but he was pressed into action on Saturday against LSU because Mitch has a separated shoulder and backup Lorenzo Nunez was not available after spraining his shoulder against Missouri the week before the LSU contest.
Florida Treon Harris Treon Harris ????
Harris started the opener before redshirt freshman Will Grier took the reins for the second game. Grier hit on 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,204 yards and 10 TDs before being suspended for the remainder of the season by the NCAA on Monday, likely putting Harris back under center.
- Sheldon Mickles
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.