In this week’s Florida Football Friday Final, OnlyGators.com tackles last week’s breakout performance by sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, continued confidence in redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and a wide variety of other topics not previously covered in stories posted on the site this week.
The Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) hit the road for the first time this season when they face the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0) on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and will air live on CBS.
THIS WEEK ON ONLYGATORS.COM
Notebook: Will Muschamp reviews Kentucky, previews Alabama
Story: Florida secondary faltered early, strengthened late
Story: Healthy, motivated Matt Jones made a statement
Notebook: Kurt Roper, D.J. Durkin evaluate units ahead of showdown with Tide
Story: Gators not intimidated by recent success of Crimson Tide
HONEY THUNDER RUMBLES
Anyone who watched the Kentucky game, viewed a highlight package or read a Florida-centric story this week knows full well what Robinson did last Saturday – matching a school record with 15 receptions in a single game while finding a landing spot at No. 4 on the Gators’ all-time list of players with the most receiving yards in one contest (216).
Taking a step back and looking at the performance in greater context, it is even more impressive. Two suspensions and a lack of dedication made Robinson completely ineffective during his freshman campaign despite the fact that the four-star prospect was hailed as Florida’s best offensive recruit in years. A third suspension, which would have cost him the ability to perform in the Idaho game if it had been played, made it appear as if Robinson had not truly turned the corner off the field despite all of the praise he received from his coaches and teammates for his performances on it in the offseason.
“[His success] doesn’t surprise me at all, I mean, I had to cover him, I had to deal with him all camp, all last year,” explained sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was also Robinson’s roommate over the summer. “It was just a matter of time, that’s why I was so confident about him, talking about him at media day. He’s a great player. It doesn’t really surprise me.”
He continued: “I think he gets it now. I think he understands. This is what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He’s taking the game more serious[ly]. He’s in the film room. He’s asking me questions. We go at it every day; we make each other better, and I’m excited for him, excited to see what he can accomplish this year.”
Redshirt senior center Max Garcia referred to Robison’s talent as “unbelievable,” while Driskel explained that he has “always been comfortable with Demarcus.”
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is also impressed with what Robinson has put on film, but he sees one particular area where the breakout talent can continue to improve as the season progresses.
“He played a really good game [but] there’s obviously always things he can get better at. There were mistakes to correct that he sees on the football field and the same thing with ball security,” explained Roper.
“You know, I was coming home and my wife, she’s an old sports reporter so she knows something about football. … We’re talking about D-Rob and how good a game he played and all that and she goes, ‘Oh but his ball security and some [of those things].’ I said, ‘Well let’s just put him on the bench. You don’t want to play him. You want, we’ll put him on the bench. We won’t play him.’ [Laughing] She goes, ‘Wait a second. Hold on.’
“I think those are things that we obviously can keep working on to get better. And he sees that. He knows that. He’s trying. It’s what you call muscle memory and that’s why you go to the practice field. Those things are muscle memory. And until he changes his muscle memory and we keep working on it, it’s still going to be a problem and that’s why it’s the focus all the time.”
MORE POSITIVES THAN NEGATIVES
The vocal majority of Gators fans want to focus on the negatives these days, especially when it comes to Driskel. And it is quite easy to point out mistakes that Florida’s starting quarterback made during last Saturday’s game.
Early in the contest, Driskel somehow overthrew two wide open receivers who would have either hauled in his passes for big gains or touchdowns had he hit them on the mark. A short while later, he managed to launch the ball with the perfect distance…except it was two feet out of bounds. So the only thing Driskel could do when asked about it on Monday was copy to those miscues.
“I had some open guys. I just got to give those guys a chance [to make a play]. That’s something we’ll get corrected. I’m not too worried about it. I know I did miss a few,” he said, “but I’d rather me miss the open receivers than not have the open receivers. We’re going to get that corrected, and I’m going to have to do that in order for us to be successful down the road.”
Driskel also panicked while attempting to avoid taking a sack and threw the ball away. Unfortunately, he failed to throw it completely out of bounds and put way too much air under the ball; soon he would see it get picked off and nearly taken to the house. Roper was well-aware that Driskel made that mistake but was also proud to see the way he handled pressure throughout the contest.
“I thought Jeff stood in there and made a lot of throws versus guys in his face. I thought he played really, really fast and got the ball out of his hand. I was really pleased with that aspect of it,” he said. “I think we could’ve helped him with some different things, moved the pocket a little bit more and different things like that, but I thought he did a good job of handling the pressure.”
Despite Driskel’s early struggles (7-of-20, interception), Roper and head coach Will Muschamp never considered replacing him with freshman Treon Harris. That paid off for the Gators, which saw him finish the game 18-of-23 for 179 yards and three touchdowns…including a conversion on 4th and 7 that is – to this point – the highlight of his career.
“To have a play like that in a critical situation, no question for him. Really, I think Jeff is playing really well,” Muschamp said on Monday. “Certainly, the throwaway in the first half, he was trying to throw it away and thought he had a little more on the ball than he did. … You take a couple drops here and there in the game, a little off-kilter on the deep balls. He came back in the second half and really performed well. There is no question that was a huge play for him.”
Roper believes Driskel has a “pretty good” comfort level with Florida’s offense at this time, and his confidence only grew in his signal caller when Roper saw Driskel take “complete control” of the aforementioned 4th and 7 play. Driskel got the players aligned, ensured the proper players were on the line of scrimmage, rushed to get the snap off, made a quick decision and executed a great throw.
In fact, outside of the one time Driskel stared down Robinson in the end zone in overtime – throwing the ball late and ultimately incomplete when Robinson bobbled a potential touchdown – Roper thought he was quite poised.
For Driskel, Saturday marks the second time he will face Alabama in his career. The first time, as a true freshman injury replacement for John Brantley in 2011, Driskel fumbled a snap and was sacked twice – one led to a sprained ankle that eliminated him from starting the following game.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Driskel on what Florida showed by sticking together and winning on Saturday: “We’re not going to hang our heads when things go wrong. We had a lot of things go wrong, especially early on the offensive side. Things weren’t clicking for us. We weren’t making the plays down the field, but we continued to move forward. No one was complaining or doing anything like that. So I just think we have a really close-knit unit that knows how to stick together, and I think that we’re going to have to do that in a few more games this year.”
» Driskel on Alabama’s offense: “Obviously, they have a lot of good players and they’re going to play some one-on-one matchups, and we’re going to have to win some of those. I think their coaches [coach them] extremely well; they have a really good coaching staff. We have our hands full.”
» Junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. on the Tide’s defense: “They’re explosive. They run the ball very well. They have good receivers and a good quarterback and stuff like that. We just have to play our ball game and just defend. It’s going to be a line of scrimmage game, so we just have to control our side of the ball.”
» Hargreaves on the Gators’ confidence this season, especially during Saturday’s game: “I don’t think anybody on our team had a doubt that we were going to win that game, no matter how many overtimes we went to. Just walking down the sidelines, looking guys in their eyes, it’s completely different than last year. Yeah, there’s room for improvement but our confidence is high. I think it’s going to stay that way – win, loss, that’s just kind of the team we are, and I’m excited to see how the season ends up for us.”
» Garcia on how Florida’s offensive line can combat a deep Alabama defensive line: “With heart. With our will to play. We played 96 snaps last week; I played every single one of them. I think we have guys that are willing to go the distance. They’re not going to tap out. That’s the way it’s been since the spring, going on with the same guys. … We’re ready to go the distance.”
Roper on senior tight end Tevin Westbrook: ” I think between him and Clay [Burton] right now, those guys are doing a good job being interchangeable in a lot of ways. Clay played a few more snaps than Tevin. Tevin obviously is a physical guy, tries to make plays that way in the run game, and then was big for us in some play-action pass right there.”