GAINESVILLE — Whether redshirt freshman Will Grier or sophomore Treon Harris earns Florida's starting quarterback job might not matter if the Gators play as they did in Saturday's too-close-for-comfort 31-24 win over East Carolina.
The Gators (2-0) needed a second-half comeback by Grier, Harris' insurance touchdown drive, and defensive lineman Joey Ivie's forced fumble in his own red zone in the closing minute just to put away the Pirates (1-1).
"That was embarrassing," coach Jim McElwain said. "We've got a long ways to go."
Especially with penalties. After committing only one in last week's season-opening win, UF again resembled a team that ranked among the most-penalized in the country under former coach Will Muschamp.
McElwain called the display "horrible" and "inexcusable," yelling at running back Kelvin Taylor after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he committed after the game-sealing touchdown.
"That's not how it's going to be any more," McElwain said. "It's not going to happen. We've got to learn. It was embarrassing. It was embarrassing to our administration, our university. It almost came back to bite us in the end."
It didn't, because the quarterbacks and defense made enough plays to hold on in front of a crowd of 88,034 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
In front of a leaky offensive line, Grier's biggest early play came in the first half, when he ran away from his blockers and hit tight end DeAndre Goolsby for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Harris' first-half numbers were fine. He completed all three of his passes, threw for 15 yards and added 10 rushing yards. But his team's results were not. In the 12 plays with Harris at quarterback, UF gained only 53 yards. Austin Hardin missed two field goals — a 34-yarder wide left and a 35-yarder wide right — to ruin both trips inside the red zone.
Grier had his own mistake, throwing his first career interception when Armwood High alumnus Alvin Bailey bobbled the ball on his way to the ground, popping it up to Pirates safety Bobby Fulp. East Carolina made UF pay immediately when Blake Kemp connected with Isaiah Jones for a 27-yard touchdown that gave the Pirates a 14-10 lead.
Grier's answer looked like his audition tape to earn the starting job. He completed 4 of 5 passes on an eight-play, 57-yard drive. After the Pirates nearly intercepted a throw Grier forced into the end zone and freshman running back Jordan Cronkrite tripped in the backfield, Grier stood in the pocket and fired a 6-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson for the go-ahead touchdown.
Grier finished 10-of-17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns; Harris was 5-for-8 for 54 yards and added 32 rushing yards.
"Very average," McElwain said of his quarterbacks.
UF cornerback Jalen Tabor jumped Kemp's pass in the third quarter and returned it 39 yards for his first career touchdown to extend the lead to 24-14. But UF's fortunes turned when Harris re-entered the game.
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Running back Mark Herndon fumbled his exchange with Harris, and East Carolina recovered. Five plays later, the Pirates' 30-yard field goal cut the Gators' lead to 24-17 with 12:25 left.
Harris led the Gators on a 75-yard drive to set up Taylor's 7-yard touchdown run — and a celebration that infuriated McElwain. East Carolina's last-gasp drive advanced to the 13 before Ivie, a Pasco High alumnus, forced a fumble to seal the win.
"We weren't as disciplined as we could be," defensive back Brian Poole said.
McElwain believes that started Monday, when more than two dozen players weren't properly taped before meetings and practice. McElwain said the season-opening 61-13 rout of New Mexico State left his players entitled.
"We felt like we did something," Tabor said.
And McElwain made it clear, even after a 2-0 start, the Gators haven't done anything yet.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.