When head coach Will Muschamp chose sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel to start for the Florida Gators over classmate Jacoby Brissett back in September, he stressed that the team could win with either player and that Brissett was just “one snap away” from having the starting job to himself.
That was not meant to be an indictment of Driskel’s ability to hold on to the job, which he has done for nine games over three months, but rather the fact that a player can go down with an injury at any time and his replacement will need to step up and fill in.
Driskel going down with an injury is exactly what happened on Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette when, trying to avoid the rush on Florida’s second possession of the third quarter, he seriously injured his ankle. Brissett came on immediately to complete the series, not knowing how long Driskel would be out of action.
“I think it’s very difficult to come in the middle of a series for a quarterback,” Muschamp said after the game. “I think he did a fantastic job. … I think he handled it very well.”
Though the starter would wind up not returning to the game, Brissett entered the contest with a thin 13-10 lead. One play later, sophomore punter Kyle Christy had his attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown, meaning the back-up was suddenly put in a position where he would have to engineer a come-from-behind victory.
“You have to practice and play like that, knowing it’s one snap away like what happened [Saturday],” Brissett said. “It’s bad that it happened to Jeff at this point of time in the season but with Coach installing that one snap away [philosophy], I had to make sure that when I got my chance I didn’t make a fool of myself and that I came out and did what I had to do.”
Brissett nearly did just that on the offense’s next possession, throwing incomplete on third down and nearly having the ball intercepted. He was sacked twice on the next offensive drive and overthrew a wide open wide receiver in redshirt senior Frankie Hammond, Jr. on the following possession. Then came his moment.
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With 3:49 left and the ball on the ULL 49-yard line, Brissett hit redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed over the middle for six yards and threw a bomb to him on a post pattern for a 39-yard reception just one play later. Down inside the five-yard line, Brissett hustled out of the pocket and threw a bullet to redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar for the game-tying touchdown.
“It was just a great play by Q,” he said. “We work on scramble moves every day. For him to transfer it from practice to the field on game day, it was great to see it. I tried to make the best throw I could.”
Muschamp was pleased with Dunbar’s positioning but also remained impressed with how Brissett handled himself not only during the game but throughout the entire season.
“Man-down, man-up. We’ve had it all season,” he said. “Credit to him getting in there and making the throws and making the huge throw to Jordan down the middle there. In Tampa Two [defense], their Mike [linebacker] didn’t carry him down the middle. He sees it and gets the ball down the middle of the field.
“He’s a guy…you’re one snap away. That has been his approach. … I got all the confidence in him. We didn’t even blink as far as the different things we knew he would be able to do and the success he would have.”
Brissett admitted after the game that the hardest thing to deal with this season has been staying on track and finding the motivation to watch film and practice hard rather than simply waiting around for his next repetition. What got him through those days was the knowledge that the mantra “’one snap away’ is really real.”
“It is bad that [Driskel] got hurt but for me to go in and pull the team together and help them and for them to help me make plays, it was great,” he said. “We came out with a win and that’s [what matters]. We’re in the playoffs right now, pretty much, like what Coach Muschamp said. If something bad happens, it could be over.”
Fans have been worried about Brissett transferring following the completion of the season after he failed to win the starting job outright in September. Muschamp has maintained that the sophomore would continue playing at Florida, though offensive coordinator Brent Pease admitted that he would not blame a back-up quarterback from believing he could start elsewhere.
Asked to discuss his future and whether or not that would include playing for the Gators next season, Brissett said, “My future was today. One snap away. It’s right there.”
In Brissett’s mind, the competition with Driskel remains live and well.
Photo Credit: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun