There is the rare occasion in which a single player can win or lose a game. It does not happen often, especially in football, but it can and has in the past. That was not the case on Saturday and neither sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel nor redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed deserves to shoulder the blame for the Florida Gators’ hard-fought but sloppy loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Driskel had a hellacious game.
After fumbling on the opening play but recovering it, he coughed the ball up two snaps later. Driskel fumbled a second time later in the game and also threw two interceptions including one into the end zone to end the first half. Throwing the ball away would likely have resulted in a Florida field goal and 9-7 halftime lead instead of a 7-6 deficit.
He also made some plays.
Driskel completed 54 percent of his passes for 185 yards, converted a number of third downs with his arm and even had a stellar 20-yard run off of a zone read late in the game. Yet through his failures and successes on Saturday, he was not on the field alone and at times had little help from teammates his teammates both up front and out wide.
“We got to play better around him,” said head coach Will Muschamp after the game, diverting the blame away from Driskel. “We got to protect better. We got to create vertical plays. We got to find ways to run the ball. You can’t put everything on Jeff Driskel.
“You got to be able to run the ball. You got to be able to create vertical plays and stretch people out and not let people load the box. Again, that’s something that we’ve been able to overcome for the most part throughout the way we’ve played when we take care of the ball and we play field position and we don’t put ourselves at risk in some situations. We did tonight. We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing as far as the field position and the turnovers. The formula we’ve needed to have happen against good football teams we’ve done to this point, and we didn’t today.”
Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Muschamp did not need to put the onus on Driskel. The signal caller took a bulk of the responsibility anyway, just as good leaders are supposed to, especially when it is evident that they struggled in a particular game.
“I made some critical mistakes. That’s what it comes down to,” he said on Saturday. “When you have a defense like you do, you can’t turn the ball over. They’re going to make stops. You can’t force things. You just got to take points. There was a couple times there where we took points off the board and put our defense in tough spots.”
He continued, “When you make that many errors and put the ball on the ground and throw interceptions, it’s hard to win games. When your defense is playing lights out like they have been all year, it’s tough. It comes down to the basics – taking care of the ball – and we’ll work on that this week.”
Despite all four miscues by Driskel, Reed’s fumble inside the five-yard line with his team down eight and just over two minutes to play is the one that will stick out when the game is remembered years from now.
His reception on 2nd-and-6 from Georgia’s 18 was his career-high-tying fifth of the game. The 13 yards he gained on the catch gave him 74 total for the contest, a career-best single-game mark. However, instead of getting tackled or scoring a touchdown and having the play be a hallmark moment, Reed leapt into the air and fumbled the ball, making the play a black eye on an otherwise terrific performance.
Reed knew it immediately. He looked crushed on the field and burst into tears once he took a seat on the bench. Teammates comforted him not only to raise his spirits but to assure him that his fumble did not cost the Gators the game, even if a score in the situation would have provided Florida with the opportunity to tie the contest with a successful two-point conversion.
“Just got to take care of the ball,” said Muschamp, looking dejected. “Great effort. It was an outstanding play, turning up the field and trying to make a play for the Gators. In that situation, you just got to have better ball security. Again, [I] don’t fault the effort.”
Driskel’s interception and Reed’s fumble likely resulted in at least a nine-point swing for Florida. But what about junior defensive end Dominique Easley’s third-down holding call, which extended a drive that would have ended in a punt and eventually led to a Georgia touchdown?
What if the offensive line blocked better or junior running back Trey Burton didn’t fumble a Wildcat hand-off and instead took the ball down the field for a big gain, which was possible considering how well the play was blocked?
The Gators had been successful through the first seven games of the season by winning as a team in all three phases of the game. Florida lost Saturday not because of one or two players but rather what the entire team did – or did not do – on the field.
Photo Credit: Bob Self/Florida Times-Union