1. I'll spare the discussion of everything else involving Treon Harris, but what difference did he make on the field Saturday in Knoxville? How much of a concern would his absence be, exactly?
I think Harris came in and played well ... but I'm not sure he demonstrated enough for the instant deification that came from some quarters. (For my part, I sent obviously over-the-top tweets.) He threw a couple of completions and ran a zone read competently, but he also nearly threw a pick-six and ran a dramatically streamlined offense; it's very fair to wonder whether he would have had as much success over a longer stretch, though it's also definitely right to note that Florida had a much easier time of staying on or ahead of offensive schedule with Harris in the game. And as for whether other players played better with Harris in: I have no idea how to tease out the interaction effect of Harris coming in and Jalen Tabor forcing a big fumble to give Florida life and players just being in condition to wear down Tennessee late.
His absence, though, means that Florida's stuck with Jeff Driskel as its starter, and will have to throw in either a weak-armed passer (Skyler Mornhinweg) or a raw freshman (Will Grier) if Driskel gets hurt. And given that I think Harris might have been Florida's starter against LSU, well, that's a huge loss.
2. Jeff Driskel's improvement under Kurt Roper was a big subplot this offseason. Instead, he's regressed. What's happened there?
The basic problem with 2014 Driskel is an inability to put touch on the ball, which has resulted in high balls on intermediate routes getting tipped and picked and deep balls sailing just beyond receivers' hands. Driskel's been sabotaged by receivers that have dropped 15 passes, many crucial, in four games, but he's also just not been sharp, and appears often to be pumping in his best fastballs where mixing speeds is most necessary.
The promising thing about his outing against Tennessee, which featured three picks, but only one that didn't go off his own man's hands, was that he looked competent in a zone-read running game for the first time this year after really struggling to make reads through Florida's first two SEC games. LSU's obviously had some issues defending the zone read, too, so expect Driskel to run a fair few on Saturday.
3. On the upside, Demarcus Robinson has really answered the bell and looked like a top-flight wideout. What's he doing well?
Well, he's looked like a top-flight wideout for two full games, and shown flashes for two others. He's a very good athlete and so fluid that he is exceedingly difficult to cover, but Robinson's had the dropsies, and his total misplay of a ball against Tennessee led to Driskel's first pick.
He can get free and do things with the ball, and I'd love to see Florida try some more quick game stuff with him, but Robinson's still more promise than production for now.
4. Florida's defense seems to be in the same position LSU's is this season. Young and rebuilding. Fair assessment?
Two weeks ago, I would've said yes, absolutely. After how Florida throttled Tennessee on Saturday — basically the only thing that consistently worked for the Vols was picking on Marcus Maye, a safety who struggles to consistently cover slot receivers — I think young and rising might be better.
Florida's forced three turnovers in every game this year (and got cheated out of what absolutely looked like a fourth against Tennessee on a Tabor strip earlier in the game) and tightened up the safety play that had been its downfall against Kentucky and Alabama by inserting Duke Dawson and streamlining the decision-making for its secondary, and it was never really bad against the run, even against Alabama.
I really liked what I saw out of that unit against Tennessee, and I think Florida should be able to build on that success. Put me down as cautiously optimistic about that bunch.
5. What's worked well on that side of the ball, aside from Vernon Hargreaves of course?
Florida's strength this year appears to be run defense. The Gators play assignment football quite soundly, and string out runs to the edge beautifully; when front seven players make tackles on the end of that to finish plays, Florida can put offenses in difficult down-and-distance scenarios.
But Florida's secondary and pass rush — which tallied six sacks of Justin Worley, and forced several bad throws to boot — looked like strengths last Saturday, and it's hard to say anything but Maye on Pig Howard didn't really work in that game.
6. Finally, both of these teams are kind of at a crossroads here and need this game. Will Muschamp in particular. Is his demise as imminent as reported, and is there some concern that might trickle down to the players at some point?
I don't think Muschamp's demise is imminent so much as it is anticipated. Jeremy Foley's openly said that Muschamp will get the full season to coach and be judged on his merits afterward, and I believe that: Foley may have fired Ron Zook in the middle of a season, but Muschamp is, in many ways, Foley's attempt to learn from the lessons of hiring both Zook and Urban Meyer, and he wants to do right by his guy, fans' frustrations aside.
I'm not particularly concerned that that pressure is seeping into players' brains, though. Even critics would have to concede that Muschamp does an excellent job of taking blame and spreading credit, and he's been beloved by his players for his passion and work ethic, which really haven't flagged despite the lack of pined-for success.
If Florida fails to save Muschamp's job in 2014, I don't think it will be for lack of trying.