Gators will go as far as QB Jeff Driskel takes them

Most quarterbacks that go 11-2 in their first season as a starter – and follow up that campaign by throwing for more yards in a single game against an FBS opponent than his school has seen in four years – would likely be surrounded by Heisman Trophy buzz.

As has been obvious for the last 18 months, Florida Gators redshirt junior Jeff Driskel is not most quarterbacks.

Instead of fans and critics looking at what Driskel has accomplished despite playing for two now-fired offensive coordinators in pro-style systems he was not originally recruited to run, the focus has been on his numerous failings.

In those two losses during his sophomore campaign, Driskel completed just 55 percent of his passes. He threw for just one touchdown, tossed four interceptions (including a pick-six in the opening moments of the 2013 Sugar Bowl against Louisville) and fumbled thrice (twice in the red zone, one of which began the Georgia game on a sour note).


Driskel started his 2013 season with plenty of praised heaped on him from head coach Will Muschamp. He did not rack up yardage or touchdowns in the season opener but completed 77.3 percent of his passes against Toledo. One week later on the road at Miami, Driskel went 22-for-33 for 291 yards, the most thrown by a Florida quarterback against an FBS opponent since the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

The Gators did not win that game against the Hurricanes, however, and a lot of it was Driskel’s doing. He was intercepted in the red zone twice, leaving anywhere from six to 14 points on the board in what wound up being a five-point Miami victory.

His season ended one week later when another bad read resulted in a pick-six. Driskel was not benched but rather knocked out, as he broke his ankle on the same play and dragged himself off the field, refusing medical assistance until he got to the sideline.

“Jeff’s a grown man. He’s as tough a competitor that I’ve been around from an athlete standpoint,” Muschamp said recently. “To have him walk off the field in what happened to him, he’s a lot tougher than me. That says something about his toughness and his mental edge he’s got about him. That’s why he has great respect, in my opinion, from the locker room, because of his competitive edge.

“I don’t think there’s any question: At the end of the day, guys respect competitors. Guys respect tough guys, and he is one.”

Driskel’s physical toughness has never been in question, but his mental toughness and ability to bounce back from mistakes and make game-changing plays has been an issue.

“The first thing that I want is a guy that is mentally tough, that you can’t shake him. It doesn’t matter if the crowd boos him running off the field. It doesn’t matter if you have a four-interception game. It doesn’t matter if … everybody tells you, ‘You’re not any good.’ There’s one guy in this world that can take Jeff Driskel’s confidence from him and that’s Jeff Driskel,” explained offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

To that end, Roper believes Driskel has vastly improved in that area of the game.

“I think he is mentally tough. I think he’s got the right look in his eye.”

The relationship between the two men is exceedingly important if Florida is to rebound from its 4-8 record, the worst since the Gators went winless in 1979.

“Coach Roper’s been great since he’s gotten here. He’s a guy that’s going to be real positive. Just hearing good words about myself from him is awesome. Coach Roper has been a big help to our offense and to our team,” Driskel said.

Roper has spent time fine-tuning Driskel’s mind and mechanics. He already believes his quarterback is confident in his ability, but he also wants him to be decisive when choosing which receiver to target on the field.

It is to that end that Roper is also helping Driskel as the long ball has been notably absent from Florida’s offense over the last few seasons. Driskel spent the summer throwing deep passes to his wide receivers, and it has been a focus at practice as well.

“Coach Roper has really emphasized putting more air under it. More air equals more forgiveness,” he explained. “It gives the receiver more time to adjust. Receivers are just naturally better at locating the ball than [defensive backs] are. It’s just putting more air on it gives those guys more time to adjust to the ball.”

That is where Driskel has been succeeding, to the delight of his coaches and teammates.

Senior safety Jabari Gorman said Driskel is “making better decisions,” being smarter with the ball and challenging the defense with his tosses. He also noted that he did not remember Driskel throwing a single interception during fall camp, a fact Muschamp basically confirmed a day later.

“He’s been very good with the ball. I don’t think in any team periods we’ve had a turnover with Jeff,” Muschamp noted. “There may have been one in a one-on-one, a deflected pass. He’s been very good with the ball, making good decisions.”

Gorman is not the only teammate to praise on Driskel for his efforts both on the field as a quarterback and off the field as a leader. Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries called his signal caller “really fine-tuned,” noting how much more comfortable he appears to be running Roper’s up-tempo spread offense.

Redshirt junior wideout Valdez Showers shared a similar sentiment.

“[He’s] definitely more comfortable. I feel like this offense fits him more, his skill set to be able to run and be able to throw. He’s definitely made strides in getting more of a feel for the game and not being as robotic, going through his reads and everything. He’s getting the ball out fast, reading defenses, knowing where the open spots are going to be in the defense, making plays,” Showers explained.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar credits Driskel’s improvement to his extra work over the summer. Sophomore WR Ahmad Fulwood said the chemistry between the quarterback and his pass catchers has been “great.”

Perhaps most notable, however, is what redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor, who has gone against Driskel and the first-team offense for weeks now, has seen from the other side of the ball.

“I definitely sense confidence from the offense. I sense it from Driskel and that’s the main thing. You want your quarterback to go out there and be confident,” he said.

“I think it’s a lot easier spreading out the defense and be able to read what coverage you’re in, know where to go with the ball where if things break down. He can always use his legs, too, which is not a bad thing.”

With a pair of freshmen behind him and the team’s hopes for significant offensive improvement squarely on his shoulders (and hips), the Gators will only go as far as Driskel will take them in 2014.

He enrolled at UF with the pedigree, appears to finally have an offensive system that suits his style and possesses the best group of offensive skill players he’s had in three years.

But with talking season coming to a close and the 2014 campaign set to kick off for Florida on Saturday at 7 p.m., it’s officially put up or shut up time.

Photo Credit: Wade Payne/Associated Press

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22 Responses to “Gators will go as far as QB Jeff Driskel takes them”

  1. sjkoepp says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself: offseason is over- time to just start playing and putting up points. Time will tell whether Driskel and the coaching staff can get it done, but unless players and reporters out of practice are all are delusional, seems like we’ll be just fine.

  2. gatorboi352 says:

    As far as Driskel is concerned, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I’ll never forget his deer in headlights look, coming in for the injured Brantley in 2011.

    152 turnovers later, I’m in wait and see mode.

    • Michael Jones says:

      A true freshman QB comes off the bench, without a chance to warm-up, to replace the injured starter, for his first playing time EVER, against Alabama, and you’ll never forget the “deer in headlights look?”

      Of all the things that Driskel has done, including quarterbacking our 11-2 season, that’s what stands out to you?

      By the way, I thought he stood tall against Bama that game, especially with all things considered.

    • Tractorr says:

      You are joking right? A true freshman getting thrust into a game against Bama!!! About .0001 percent wouldn’t look like a deer in headlights in that situation.

      • gatorboi352 says:

        To both of you:

        “152 turnovers later, I’m in wait and see mode.”

        And please spare me the “11-2 season” talk. UF won many of those game despite his play.

        “There are reasons for a lot of his struggles that have nothing to do with him and that are well document.”

        Yeah, I too blame the defense and special teams and coaches for all his red zone interceptions and fumbles.

        Also, I recall Brissett coming into that game too, looked plenty poised. The deer in headlights look I’m referring to was on the sidelines, before he played a snap when he realized he had to go in. Not any one play on the field. Many Gator fans I spoke with during that year mentioned the exact same moment. It’s not all about physical attributes, gentlemen. There’s a big mental aspect to the game to, and that aspect is something I haven’t seen very good things from in regards to Jeff.

        He can redeem it all this year, but I’m in wait and see.

  3. Michael Jones says:

    I’m a big Driskel fan. There are reasons for a lot of his struggles that have nothing to do with him and that are well document.

    Won’t be surprised to see him have a good year. Plus, with all he’s been through here, hard to imagine that he’s still just a junior.

    Hard not to get excited, folks. Plus opening kickoff is upon us.

    GO GATORS!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. gatorboi352 says:

    My biggest issue with Jeff is when the play breaks down, when all designed aspects go by the wayside and its improvise time, he is at his worst. All the greats that QB’d over the years have had stellar improvisation skills and “outside the design” plays made, time and time again.

    This, to me, all ties back to the mental part of the game. If Jeff can GREATLY increase his productivity in this regard, he can have a special season.

  5. SW FL Joe says:

    While I agree with the premise of the article, the quotes from Roper and the players need to be put in context. What happens in a controlled, scripted practice or scrimmage and what happens on Saturday in front of 90,000 fans and a national TV audience are not necessarily the same thing. No one ever said Jeff hasn’t been able to get the job done in practice, it’s live action that rattles him. He has always had the propensity to take a bad situation and make it worse. I’ve lost count as to how many times just throwing the ball out of bounds or even taking a sack would have yielded a better result than what Jeff did. Heck, just teaching him to knock down a batted ball and not catch it would be a plus.

    • The article was not slanted. And the conclusion you came to is the same way it closes – talk is cheap.

    • Albert says:

      It was John Brantley who caught his own pass that got batted into the air

    • Michael Jones says:

      Apparently you’ve also lost count of the big plays he made at Vandy, at UT, against LSU, at Texas AM and in other games. Those were all battles that his play was big in helping us to win. He almost brought us back against Georgia after ridiculously conservative “play not to lose” offensive play calling all game. We couldn’t stop Louisville or he would have brought us back in that game too (although, of course, all we talk about is the pick six).

      Playing QB for us is a thankless task. Always has been. I can remember us doing the same thing towards Chris Leak, Doug Johnson, Rex Grossman. . pretty much anybody whose name wasn’t Danny Wuerffel or Tim Tebow. We magnify and dwell on every mistake and develop complete amnesia about any of the good.

      So many programs would love to have Driskel at QB but not the (unjustifiably) arrogant and entitled Gator fans. Nobody is ever good enough for us. It’s National Championship or bust. Our favorite QB is always the guy in line behind whoever is starting or, worse yet, the guy who transferred. Must be frustrating as hell for the guy under center for UF.

      • Dave Massey says:

        Spurrier and Meyer did spoil us Gator fans.

        I agree, everybody needs to get off Jeff’s back and let him play. He is our starting qb and by far our best option. If he gets hurt we are faced with two true freshmen or the guy who couldn’t get it done last year. Not very good prospects. Everybody should get behind the qb and root him on. Unfortunately, the first mistake. He makes everybody will start boohooing and whining. EVERY qb makes mistakes, it is part of the game.

        When Leak was quarterback everybody was all over him for four years and then the guy goes out and smokes the bucknuts. Get a reality check people.

        One last thought, FIVE DAYS!!!

  6. 5wideU says:

    gatorboi,

    Your “152 turnovers later” comment is complete fiction. Look at the numbers. In the 3 big losses he had as a starter (UGA, Louisville, and scUM), yes he had a lot of turnovers. The other 12 or 13 games, hardly any. Don’t let the facts get in the way of your position.

    • gatorboi352 says:

      Yes I exaggerated his TO count. But the TOs he has had are so damning because of _when_ and _where_ they occurred in game.

  7. Michael J. says:

    I can’t think of any team that would be “thrilled” to have jeff Driskel a quarterback. As for what the players and coaches are saying, what do you expect them to say? You’re not going to hear things like,”He still can’t throw the ball downfield.” Or ” He’s still the same when it comes to pocket presence, he doesn’t have any.” It’s amazing to me that anyone gets excited over what a fellow player or coach says about someone on their own tea. What do you expect them to say? Especially when they know that the head coach has pushed all his chips in, doubled down, if you will, on Jeff Driskel being the starting quarterback. Muschamp has said that Driskel was more of a “caretaker” in 2012. The gators relied on a dominant defense and great special teams to win, not a playmaking quarterback. That’s not the case this year, if the Gators are going to be better, they’ll have to have a quarterback that is a playmaker. Like the article implies, whether Driskel is capable of that is what the Gators season and the future of this coaching staff depends on.
    I don’t believe a word of the hype this year about Driskel becoming a good quarterback. One play last year convinced me thatDriskel will nwever be good. It was his first fumble against Toledo. A defensive back blitzed, not on his blind side, but where Driskel stared straight at him. What did Driskel do? Nothing! He looked like, what other people have referred to, a deer in headlights and meekly coughed up the ball when touched. He’s about the smallest big quarterback I’ve ever seen. It seems like he goes to the ground when someone touches him in the pocket and there’s a good chance he’ll cough up the ball too.Remember how weak he looked on the fourth and inches against Miami? Hell, he’s as big as Winston, or bigger,but you’d never know it based on how easy it is to bring him down. Maybe he is better, but I won’t go on words that are said whether they are true or not. I’ll believe it when UF travels to Tuscaloosa and Driskel actually makes plays to win a game, not lose one. He made some good plays against Miami, but they were outweighed by the bad ones. Let’s see if he can become consistently good, this offense Roper runs is predicated on precision and consistency, with little margin for error. Driskel is being given the keys, whether he can drive remains to be seen.

    • Michael Jones says:

      He was good enough to beat your a—s right there in Tally, in your home, in your backyard, wasn’t he? Enough said.

      You blowhards had the 2nd best QB on the field that day, a #1 draft pick who had a hard time remembering which color jerseys his receivers were wearing. The fact that you don’t like him makes me like him more than I already did.

      • Michael J. says:

        I guess you’re referring to the FSU game and think I’m an FSU fan, why? One game or play does not make someone a good quarterback. It’s about consistency, if you aren’t consistent, you are not a good player. By the way, UF’s upset of FSU is the last time UF beat a good team, when UF beats a good tea again, I’ll believe the propaganda, until then, UF is just another bad team. The first chance to do so happens September 20. By the way, Muschamp is 4-11 against ranked teams, so there’s a reason for me to wonder if UF will not beat a good team until there is a new coach and Driskel is benched. By the way, why you keep mentioning FSU is strange, I don’t need to be constantly reminded of them. It’s bad enough that UF is bad, but FSU being the best team in the country makes it even worse. I just wonder if you suffer from FSU envy? UF can get to FSU’s level, all UF needs is for a quarterback to pan out. UF was great when Tebow was here, the quarterbacks that have followed have sucked. Maybe there’s one on campus now, but we won’t know until Driskel is benched. I think he’s lousy. By the way, by the time September 20 comes around, it will have been 665 days since the Gators beat a good team, will the drought end then? Or will fans like you continue to dream of, as Springsteen put it, “Glory Days?”

  8. MAR says:

    Yesssssssss! ^ Thank you. You typed the letters right out of my fingertips.

  9. aziatic41 says:

    One positive thing about Driskel is that he is probably the most experienced “junior” QB in the country. I mean this guy has been through the growing pains of a 5th year senior. He’s seen and experienced it all. And still has to more years to play. He’s really in a good situation and has nowhere to go but up in a more wide-open spread offense that he was recruited to play in.

    The mental part of Driskel’s game is what we all need to be eager to see. Third down conversions on the road, decision-making, and remaining confidence when things are going bad. All those are critical factors in being a winning QB.

    I think we all need to be concerned about our defense. Everybody is feels our defense is good but I beg to differ. Our defense has been overrated under Muschamp, despite the fact that he is a defensive-minded coach. Last year we got burned up and especially on third downs. The D rarely made it off the field on third downs.

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