On the field for the vast majority of the No. 23 Florida Gators’ season opener against Bowling Green on Saturday, sophomore Jeff Driskel was officially named the starting quarterback going forward by head coach Will Muschamp on Monday.
“As we move into next week we’re going to start Jeff Driskel versus [Texas] A&M,” he announced. “I met with Jeff and Jacoby [Brissett] [Monday] morning. It’s nothing Jacoby did not do. I just felt like Jeff with his legs give us some different variables in our offense that can help us going forward. It will be Jeff’s game to play. I told Jeff, ‘I don’t want you looking over your shoulder, but you need to play well.’”
Driskel was thrilled to learn of his appointment on Monday, noting that he is now focused on keeping the job and playing the absolute best he can for his team each week.
“It’s been a lifelong dream obviously to be the quarterback at a university like this,” he said. “It’s a big achievement. I’m really excited to take command of the offense and really hone in on what I’ve got to do and be ready to win at Texas A&M.”
Driskel was in at quarterback for four of Florida’s five scoring drives on Saturday though the ball was out of his hands most of the game as the Gators ran it two-thirds of the time.
He completed 10-of-16 passes for 114 yards and the first touchdown of his career, also contributing 24 yards in the run game on three carries and using his agility to move the pocket and give the offense additional time to make plays.
“I certainly think [Driskel’s mobility] played a big part [in the decision],” Muschamp admitted. “The quarterback run game creates issues for a defense. Right now, in our development of our offense, that’s certainly something that is going to benefit us.”
Driskel seemed to understand that fact when asked if it was a contributing factor.
“Me running the ball is a big part of my game,” he said. “I can make a play at anytime. Any time the pocket breaks down or something happens, I feel like I can get outside, so that’s a big part of my game.”
Driskel did not technically earn the start in Saturday’s game as Brissett took the first snap from under center. However, Driskel played the rest of the first quarter, took a drive into the second quarter and came back out on the field after halftime to play the final 30 minutes of the game.
“I felt like I had good tempo, got us into good plays, got us out of bad plays. I feel like I did a good job of managing the offense,” he said of his performance.
Muschamp noted early and often on Monday that Brissett remains a player that he is confident in going forward.
“We certainly know that Jacoby is certainly capable of playing very well for us,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in both guys, can win with both guys. Both of them handled it professionally – the way you’re supposed to handle it – and they’ve handled this whole competition that way. I just felt like, at this time, it is good to move forward with naming one guy.”
Playing into Muschamp’s decision to pick a starter is the fact that the players have been splitting repetitions 50-50 in practice. He believes Florida needs one player getting the vast majority of those practice snaps to build some confidence and stability heading into their first road game of the season.
“They don’t have the number of snaps under their belt [that they need to be successful],” he explained. “That’s partly my fault for splitting reps. We needed to move forward and name a starter. Jacoby will still be repped at practice and certainly will be ready when called on. I just felt like we needed to get the turns and the reps and the snaps [to one player] as we move forward.”
Driskel said that will go a long way to making him feel more comfortable on Saturday.
“I think that’s definitely going to help,” he said. “We’ve played in atmospheres like we’re going to see at Texas A&M. I think more than that, just being able to get more reps during the week and seeing more looks from the scout team and getting more reps [in general] will help.”
Muschamp clarified that Driskel winning the job was not a knee-jerk reaction to his play on Saturday but rather based on how both players performed throughout the entire offseason. The decision does not necessarily mean that the competition is settled forever, especially if Brissett steps up in practice.
“It’s one snap away,” he cautioned. “It’s like a lot of other positions; Jeff needs to be productive, too. [...] Jacoby needs to continue to do what he’s doing.”
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press