With coaches’ support, Florida Gators QB Jeff Driskel focused on improvement not criticism

By Adam Silverstein
October 1, 2014

Photo Credit: Butch Dill/Associated Press

Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel may be drawing the ire of fans and some former Florida Gators football players, but the coaching staff remains completely behind him less than two weeks after arguably the worst game of his career.

“We have 100 percent confidence in Jeff right now, and he’s the guy we feel like we’re going to win football games with,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said on Tuesday, echoing statements made by head coach Will Muschamp last Wednesday.

“I’ve only been here a few months; I haven’t been here a few years. But I think Jeff is a talented football player,” Roper continued. “We went back and watched all of our third downs in drop-back pass [this season], and we felt like eight of them we needed to be critical of him. On the other 29, they were good decisions or we didn’t make the play. … It’s a team thing. We’ve got a guy that understands the game that’s a tough-minded guy and has the ability to make plays for us.”

Driskel’s tough-mindedness has not always been displayed on the field.


Despite going 11-2 as a starter in 2012, Driskel floundered in two of the Gators’ biggest moments. He turned the ball over a combined seven times during the Florida-Georgia game (two interceptions, two fumbles) and 2013 Sugar Bowl against Louisville (two interceptions including a pick-six, fumble).

He could hardly be blamed for UF’s ills in 2013 seeing as he only started three contests, though two red zone interceptions against Miami contributed heavily to that loss and a pick-six against Tennessee (thrown on the very play he suffered a season-ending injury) proved that he still had a long way to go in his development.

But Muschamp and Roper praised Driskel endlessly in the offseason, and he looked to have made some improvements at the start of 2014 when he rebounded from a poor first half against Kentucky to put together a career-passing night (295 yards, three touchdowns) thanks to some clutch throws in the second half and triple-overtime period.

Any positivity – and there was little of it to begin with – got washed away at Alabama two Saturdays ago when Driskel once again imploded in a tough environment. How bad was Driskel? He completed 32.1 percent of his passes for 93 yards and threw two interceptions while continuing to struggle with the deep ball. Sure, he scored two touchdowns (one on the ground), but that hardly made up for his miscues.

Impatience and indignation reached a crescendo in the fourth quarter and carried on through the Gators’ off week. Yet on Monday, the first time he spoke since that dreadful afternoon (when he took full responsibility from his failures), Driskel stood strong and maintained in his poise in the face of repeated questions about his mindset and football-playing competency.

“There’s a lot out there so you can’t really shield yourself from all of it. That’s just part of playing quarterback here,” explained Driskel. “I’ve never been one where that stuff gets to me, whether it’s people saying, ‘You’re the best,’ or people saying, ‘You’re the worst.’ You just got to be even keel and keep moving forward. … I’m grown. I can handle it.”

Muschamp is proud of the way his quarterback has handled the situation and taken ownership of his play. He believes that Driskel fully recognizes what his faults are and understands that he needs to get better.

“[The criticism is] part of the deal. Be careful what you ask for when you want to be the quarterback at Florida. That’s part of it. He understands that. I don’t know if physically or mentally there’s any tougher kid that I’ve been around. He takes the heat and understands that comes with the territory,” Muschamp said.

“[He’s] about all the right things, and I think again, he will continue to move forward this season and he’ll make the Gator Nation proud he’s their quarterback. I know the majority [of people] are… that’s the frustrating part, that you’ve got to listen to the negativity of a small few. But that’s part of it.”

The “small few’ criticizing Driskel include local and national media, college football analysts and former Gators football players including NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, who has since apologized to Driskel, Muschamp and the team for calling for a new quarterback during the Alabama game.

“It’s something that was said…[Smith] was upset,” recalled Driskel. “Obviously there were a lot of Gators fans that were upset. But I have a lot of respect for him and he’s a great player here, so it’s just something that he said in the heat of the moment. It’s no big deal. …

“People are passionate about the Gators either way. I don’t think there’s any panic in this building. … Fans have the right to overreact, but we’re not panicking here.”

To that point, Muschamp and Roper have both been adamant that Driskel has received nearly all of the first-team repetitions at quarterback over the last week-plus.

Perhaps that confidence-building – not deserting their starter after one atrocious performance – is part of the reason why Driskel was so poised when he spoke with the media on Monday. Whether he is able to convert that poise into a mistake-free (or mistake-reduced) performance Saturday at Tennessee, well, that’s another story.

“It’s been a long two weeks. We’re ready to get back out there,” Driskel said.

14 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    Go Gators! Love to beat the Vols.

  2. G2 says:

    At least the OL looked pretty good in pass protection, maybe thats a good sign for this weekend. We absolutely can’t lose this game

  3. 305Gator says:

    I admit I’m part of the “small few” critical of Driskel. Having said that, I am not calling for him to be benched right now. Not yet. But he should be on a short leash. I guess Muschamp has to keep saying all these nice things about JD to keep his confidence up and that is fine. What’s not fine is to put any player ahead of the team and if JD has another of his pathetic games @ Tennessee we better see Treon Harris come in and come in early.
    JD is like Jekyll and Hide, he needs to be more consistent. The WRs need to catch the darn ball. The O needs to score in the high 30s or into the 40s. Let’s see if we can do all this starting this Saturday. We got the talent and we got time, but we have to start putting it all together right now.
    Go Gators!

  4. Michael Jones says:

    The thing I have to keep reminding myself about any player wearing the Orange and Blue is that they are basically kids, 18-22 yrs old. I know that I can (and have) been as critical as anybody, but they are just kids playing for their school and an education.

    I keep wanting to believe that what has been wrong with Jeff’s performance can be fixed with tweaking, and not a major overhaul. Would love to see him break out this Saturday, for Jeff, for UF, and for Gator Nation.

    Go Gators!!!

    • G2 says:

      He played pretty damn good in tally 2 tears ago so we know he can do it. He played great against UT 2 years ago. That was a different type of team (ground n pound) and this is “supposed” to be the spread which fits his game better. Right now it looks like last years debacle just from the shotgun.

  5. PapaMurphy says:

    -305Gator

    I agree with you 100 percent. Against Bama, the WRS had a few drops early on 3rd down that led to him losing his confidence. People tend to not understand how important a few drops can kill an unproven qbs confidence on the road. As bad as Driskel played, he deserves another chance. Harris should see the field in some capacity this week. Also, I’d like to see us go with Debose in the wildcat some. We don’t seem as creative on offense as I thought we would be with Roper at the helm. But the season is still young so we’ll see how the offense will progress.

  6. g8ter27 says:

    I know that I should have read these comments about Driskell here and that some people still believe in him. I know he is a kid, that he loves the Gators, has a strong arm and great speed. I know that he has had several offensive coordinators and some of them were not too good (Charlie Weiss)I am sorry, he is not a good qb. Tebow wasn’t as fast, didn’t have as strong an arm either, but he was a great qb. Sometimes having all the physical traits in the world just isn’t enough,

    Jeff may be a great kid, great student, loyal Gator and all of that…but anyone who has watched him over the past 3 years (even the first couple of games past year prior to his injury) can see that he is not going to lead the team to anything significant. If he is the best we have…then shame on the coaches for crappy recruiting since he got here. I hope Jeff has a breakout day Saturday and goes on to lead us to win the east and then he goes on to the NFL and becomes a great “feel good” story. But if I am a betting man, that won’t happen.

  7. gatorboi352 says:

    My beef isn’t with Driskel, or any of the kids out there on the field. It’s with the grown men STEALING hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a piss poor on the field product.

    This staff has shown the following:
    -Failure to evaluate talent and position need
    -Failure to develop kids into the highest level of collegiate athletics
    -Bring the program to on the field record lows seemingly every season outside of 2012
    -Lower the number of off the field incidents

    • senuod says:

      I have to disagree with you on that last point, if only to be fair. All of your other points are more than fair in regards to Muschamp and his staff’s performance, but, in regards to off the field incidents and discipline, this staff has proved that discipline is at least one thing they hold in high regard.

      The numbers prove that we’ve had fewer off the field incidents, and of those incidents, few of them have been serious. I think Adam even had an article referencing this specific topic earlier.

      Unfortunately, none of that excuses poor team performances….for the sake of the Gator Nation, hopefully this staff has righted the ship during this bye week.

  8. BIGGATOR says:

    First of all,18-20 year olds are NOT kids! young men yes,but not kids. Driskel himself said and rightly so,that he is grown up and can take the criticism. i commend him for that. i understand totally what the coaching staff is doing,Jeff needs that,no matter what anyone says, what others say can have a good or bad affect on a player and at times they may even believe what is being said about them. He knows what he can and can’t do hopefully Muschamp knows that too. i just hope that if the situation arises and they know Jeff has given it his best,that they have the guts to be real men and bench Driskel and put Treon in to take over. you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but the truth HAS to be spoken regardless of feelings. the University and Team come first, not egos! GO GATORS!

  9. UFGATORFAN100 says:

    Player Evaluation has been Horrible by Coaches. We Lost Brissett and Murphy cause the Coaches decided they wanted to go ALL IN on the Driskel Sweepstakes. They were counting on his potential,legs,and ceilings….ALL DUDS. We have a 4th Year Junior who plays like A Freshmen and CAN”T Read Defenses after ALL these years…. These Coaches CAN”T develop Talent…. @ UF that”s inexcusable… GO GATORS!!!

    • BIGGATOR says:

      i think you make some good points,Driskel just doesn’t seem to have “it” what i guess i call GOD given “quarterback intuition”that something you just cant teach,either he has it or not! tons of quarterbacks are good,but the great ones have that “it” factor making split second decisions and taking command of the game. that’s why the quarter back is often called the field general, for taking command and leading his team down the field to victory! i hope i’m wrong but i just don’t think Jeff fits that description. GO GATORS!

  10. USA says:

    -BIGGATOR

    I agree. But dropped passes by WRS early in games doesn’t help his cause either. Driskel is still struggling to read defenses. He does look more like a freshman than a redshirt junior. If you listen to Driskel talk you can tell he is a not quick thinker. His facial expression is always more confused than confident. I do think we need to gradually start working Treon into the game plan and hopefully he can eventually supplant Driskel. I think Driskel transferring to a smaller school would be good for him after this year if we don’t qualify for a bowl game. I can see him being real good a NCAA D1-AA school

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