The snaps are drastically reduced and therefore his opportunities are more limited, but redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel still has a role on the Florida Gators, and he plans to do whatever it takes to help his team.
Take Saturday’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt, when a finally-healthy Driskel (back) broke a 7-7 tie by leaping over a goal line pile on fourth down to score a go-ahead, one-yard touchdown.
Fans groaned when they saw Driskel enter the game on two separate goal line opportunities in consecutive series. The coaching staff and Driskel’s teammates felt otherwise, especially when they saw him extend his arms – and the ball – into the end zone.
“Jeff did a great job. I don’t care what anybody says,” said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Tuesday. “That’s a great play on his part getting that one in, in that situation. The player made a play.”
Added junior wide receiver Latroy Pittman: “That was nice to see for him. … He’s taking his role however it may be, it was good to see him get in there. … It’s fun to see him get back out there and get snaps. … It was fun to see him go high over the top of the pile and get in the end zone for us.”
Driskel is neither blind nor deaf; he sees and hears the vitriol, which was flung around about him and the Gators while the team lost back-to-back games against unranked Southeastern Conference foes at home. And he understands that his poor play was a big reason for Florida’s struggles because 12 turnovers in four games (four against Missouri alone) are hard to ignore.
So while Driskel expected his demotion, it was still disappointing.
“It’s been tough,” Driskel said Tuesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. “I’m not going to say it hasn’t been difficult. But at the end of the day, I’m still doing what I’ve always done. I’m still preparing to be ready to go in and make plays if my number gets called. That’s what I owe this team.”
Driskel could have distanced himself from the team, crawled into a hole and allowed depression to sink in. Instead, he and the Gators bottled up their emotions, stuck together and continued to work hard, just as they had been all season.
“There was a lot of negative press going around our program and that’s just something you have to deal with playing at a big program at the University of Florida. I don’t think we let it get to us. We didn’t read much into it,” he said. “We just kept doing what we were doing. I think that we were preparing well even before the bye week. We just continued to stay the course. We just made plays in these last two games as a team.”
He did not play against Georgia, though he was active for the contest. Roper and head coach Will Muschamp said Driskel’s back injury was not completely healed, but he was also not needed in the game. One week later at Vanderbilt, Florida saw an opportunity to take advantage of Driskel’s size, strength and athleticism; it paid off.
When not on the field, Driskel has continued to be a consummate teammate, working with freshman QB Treon Harris, his replacement, to help the youngster prepare before and make adjustments during games.
“Being a competitor, you always want to be the guy to have the ball. I think it goes back to I was raised right. I think my parents did a really good job of instilling a sense of the team is greater than the individual. … Any time you can contribute to the team and to a good team win, it’s a good feeling,” he said, according to the Miami Herald’s Jesse Simonton.
“I think everybody on the team should have the same sense of responsibility to the team. If it’s being in a Wildcat-type role, I want to be ready and able to run the ball and understand the blocking schemes and the defense we’re going to get. That’s not just me that feels that type of responsibility; I think that’s something you have to have in a team sport.”
Driskel also praised Muschamp and his Florida teammates for sticking together and righting the ship. As for his own role, he’s ready to do what’s necessary for the remainder of the season.
“That’s what you have to do,” he said, per the Sentinel. “There’s no point of looking back or looking into the future. You’ve got to be able to focus on one day at a time and one team at a time.”
How much Driskel will see the field going forward remains to be seen. Whether he plans to return to the Gators in 2015, his redshirt senior season, is also an unknown.
For now, he is content with Florida winning football games and will do whatever he can to help his team best reach that goal each week – just like always.
Photo Credit: Butch Dill/Associated Press