Is There a QB Controversy in Florida?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/06/2006
The quarterbacking situation in Florida is one of the more interesting things to watch on the college football landscape this year. You have a senior in Chris Leak that has led his team to a 5-0 record, and is putting up numbers that legitimately have him in the Heisman conversation. The only problem is that his coach appears lukewarm, at best, towards him, and fans are calling for him to be benched in favor of the young freshman backup.
When Leak came back into the game against Kentucky after taking a break for Tim Tebow to get some snaps, his home fans actually booed him. That backup, Tebow, is a player that was born to play in coach Urban Meyer's offensive system. He's unbelievably fast and has already put together some jaw dropping runs. When he was in the Kentucky game he carried the ball three times for 62 incredibly acrobatic yards. It didn't help that Leak took the ball right after those rushes and promptly threw a sloppy interception to end the drive.
Meyer is adamant that there is no controversy between the two quarterbacks. Leak is a seasoned veteran that is a great passer but isn't particularly mobile, while Tebow can run like the wind, but he's green and he doesn't have much of a passing game in place yet. They complement each other very well, in other words. When one struggles the other can pick up the slack. The situation should be a great one for bettors, since the team should be more consistent than they would otherwise be.
The situation has a couple of big advantages. Because the two players are so different, opposing defenses have to prepare for two entirely different looks. They have to be in a pass-first mode, especially with Florida's woes in the running game, when Leak is taking snaps, but then shift into a run mentality when Tebow takes over because he is almost certainly going to take off at some point. If a defense is struggling against the Gators already, then this is the kind of thing that could really tip the scales in Florida's favor. The other thing the setup allows is that the offensive coaching staff can get a chance to talk to Leak and make any adjustments that they deem fit during a drive instead of having to wait for the drive to end. Any team could theoretically do this, but the dropoff between starter and backup is much smaller in this case than most.
There is, of course, a problem with that situation. Or at least a potential problem. The LSU Tigers loom on Saturday. The Tigers' defense is incredibly nasty. In five games the defense has given up just 30 points, and seven of them last week against Mississippi State were in garbage time after the Tigers had the game well in hand. Teams can't run against LSU - Auburn's Heisman hopeful Kenny Irons averaged less than three yards per carry - and they can't pass either - Tulane tried three different passers and none of them could manage 50 yards. After the Gators face the LSU defense they don't exactly get a break - they face Auburn in Georgia the next two weeks.
The concern of that schedule isn't just that Florida would need a miracle to come through it undefeated. The problem is that one or both of the quarterbacks is almost certain to struggle at some point during that deadly three game run with the defenses they will see. The Gators have been able to keep their potential problem in check so far largely because they have kept winning. If the players, and especially Leak, struggle and the team loses, then the call for a change is going to reach a fever pitch.
A controversy like this, when it really gains momentum and gets running, has the potential to rip a team apart, and it can also really get into the head of a very young player like Tebow. To put a fine point on it, a bad performance against LSU this weekend by Leak would almost certainly set up a situation where Florida's opponents become a more attractive bet as the Gators will struggle to keep their act together.
There is another reason to potentially be concerned about Florida's quarterbacking situation. Leak and Tebow are both fine quarterbacks, but they are currently the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. The team is in decent shape as long as they are both playing, but if Leak were to go down -- despite what some of the Gators' more vociferous fans think -- the team would be in trouble. Tebow is going to be great, potentially Heisman great, but he is a long way from that now, and the SEC isn't particularly kind to young quarterbacks. There is no veteran security blanket if Leak goes down. If that were to happen, Florida's opponent would become very attractive at the ticket window.