Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. met with the media on Monday to wrap-up their 65-0 win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles and preview Florida’s next game against the Kentucky Wildcats.
Driskel discussed the Gators’ comfort level in their new offense while Fowler displayed many characteristics of an emerging leader for Florida’s defense. Both players also praised some of their freshmen teammates.
SUCCEEDING AND STAYING HUMBLE
Driskel earned plenty of praise from his teammates and coaches alike in the offseason, and it was even pointed out separately by both groups that he never once turned the ball over in 11-on-11 competition. He was error-free in that regard Saturday, too, though head coach Will Muschamp was not completely thrilled with that being pointed out on Monday.
“Are you trying to jinx us, or what? I mean, what the heck’s going on?” Muschamp jokingly asked the questioning reporter. “Jeff’s been really smart with the football and that’s a day-to-day process you’ve got to go through. But I think, again, people saw the command that we’ve seen in camp and the comfort level he has in what we’re trying to do.”
Driskel attributes his improvement to his system knowledge and improved decisiveness, which has been helped greatly by offensive coordinator Kurt Roper putting him in a position to succeed on a daily basis.
“When you know where the ball is supposed to go in certain coverages, you’re not forcing it in tight windows or you’re not just guessing and throwing one up,” he explained. “So, I think when you’re decisive with the ball and can get it out quicker, your chances for being successful are a lot higher.”
The plan entering Saturday’s contest was neither “overcomplicate[d]” nor difficult to execute. The Gators were comfortable knowing exactly what Roper wanted entering the game and therefore able to execute it to near-perfection at times. The end result of all that were a bunch of smiles, instead of frowns, in the film room on Sunday.
“It’s easy to go in on Sunday after a good game and watch the film, but you still have to realize there are mistakes made and you have to build on those mistakes and take the coaching,” Driskel said.
“I think if I played a game like that my freshman year, I would have been on top of the world. I don’t think I would have wanted to hear the negatives. I think I would have wanted to just focus on the things [I] did right, but that’s what happens when you mature as a player. … Coach Roper is a guy who’s going to keep us humble, but at the same time, pat us on the back. It’s kind of a give and take.”
“THANKS FOR SHOWING ME UP”
Having himself a successful afternoon on Saturday to the tune of 31-of-35 passing for 248 yards and a touchdown (not to mention leading Florida on seven other scoring drives), Driskel looked to be in line for plenty of praise after the game.
Driskel did receive his fair share, but it was freshman QB Treon Harris and his seemingly-impossible 1,051.6 passer rating that made waves as the game reached its crest. Harris was the football version of Steve Nebraska on Saturday – perfect beyond perfect.
He threw two passes, completed each for 70+ yards and saw his receivers – sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson and junior running back Mark Herndon, respectively – make great moves before taking the ball to the house for touchdowns.
“Throwing the ball downfield on your first two passes, that’s a great deal there,” said Driskel. “He got a really good look on the deep post and that play is designed to score. He threw [a] really catchable, good ball to Demarcus, and Demarcus made a really good play to stay on his feet and score. That was huge.
“On the second one, the play isn’t designed to hit the back up the middle, but the coverage that we got made it capable of him hitting a big one. And again, Mark made a really good play and turned on the jets there and scored.
“But that’s huge coming out. It’s a huge confidence builder. [He] had a procedure issue on one of the plays. That comes with experience; he’ll get it right. But overall, it was an awesome, awesome first game.”
And what did Driskel say to Harris afterward?
“’Great job.’ You know, his first two passes were touchdowns. My first one was an interception. So, ‘Thanks for showing me up,’” he joked.
EMERGING LEADER ON DEFENSE
Fowler may not have finished with a gaudy stat line Saturday but that’s what happens when a player is so disruptive in the first series that protection slides to take them out of the remainder of the game.
Instead, Fowler’s teammates did a lot of the playmaking, forcing five turnovers, registering 11 quarterback hurries and combining for nine tackles for loss on the afternoon.
“We have had a lot of great defensive performances here and that was just another one that, you know, that’s just a glimpse of what we have,” he said.
One of the most impressive performances came from redshirt freshman defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, who in his first game with the Gators both forced and recovered a fumble. Fowler explained that Brantley needed a little mental coaching before the game but got right into the swing of things once he made his first play.
“Caleb was actually really nervous, and I told him just to go out there and have fun. His first series he got the fumble recovery, so after that he was ready to play. It was like breaking him into college football. It was just so good to see him, see young guys flying around, having fun. Just seeing that they’re not nervous anymore and they’re ready to play,” he said.
Fowler is also trying to keep his teammates’ minds right between games. He refused to acknowledge the fact that Florida is looking to extend its 27-game winning streak against Kentucky this year. Instead, he is focused on a new mantra UF has employed this season.
“We don’t think about that. We treat every team with respect. We say, ‘Respect all but fear none.’ We respect our opponent, but we’re not scared of them,” he said.
“We’re going to be ready, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be ready for us, too.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Driskel on how comfortable he is with senior tight end Clay Burton and redshirt freshman tackle Roderick Johnson filling in for redshirt senior Jake McGee and junior D.J. Humphires, respectively: “Clay showed that he’s very capable in the passing game. He had a career-high seven catches, which is awesome. He made some tough catches there. He’s always been a really good blocker, but he’ll have to step up for us. D.J.’s injury isn’t as bad [as Jake’s]. … We have a really good player behind him in Rod Johnson … and he’s a guy that continues to get better each day. He loves football, so he’s a guy that I’m very confident when he’s in there.”
» Fowler on redshirt sophomore defensive end Alex McCalister showing out on Saturday: “What impressed me a lot is that we finally got to see what he has. There was a lot of people who didn’t get to see him last year because he came on toward the end of the season, but Alex always has been a great athlete and a great player. He had to go through some things, get bigger and things like that, and he’s finally able to showcase that. So, I’m glad we get to see what he can do.”
» Fowler on so many of his former teammates succeeding in the NFL: “There’s a lot of ballers on that defense. That’s what I do now. I just look around and be like, ‘We’ve got some ballers in [Vernon Hargreaves III] and Jonathan Bullard and those guys.’ It’s crazy because I was just in high school and those are boys that you grow up with. … It drives you more just to see your friends in the NFL. You’re like, ‘Dang, I played with them. I want to do the same thing.’ So, it drives you.”
» Fowler on whether Chucky is still around: “Yeah, Chucky was in the Gator Walk. I’m going to bring him to every home game, Gator Walk and some of the away games.”
» Fowler on whether Chucky gets dressed up for the Gator Walk: “No, he’s Chucky.”