Driskel Having to Grow Up Fast

Once the decision was made on a starting quarterback, things were going to be easier. But not easy. Florida's Jeff Driskel was named the starting quarterback after game one of the season and it meant he had to go on the road into hostile environments in both of his first starts. There have been some bumps and bruises, but Driskel has come on and looked the part. The test continues Saturday.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp has been steadfast in his assessment of both Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel in that both guys deserve to play and start for the Florida Gators. However, it only makes sense to pick one guy and give him more of the practice repetitions and get him ready for the rigors of the SEC, while the other one has to be ready to play at a moment's notice.

For now, Jeff Driskel is the guy and is being thrown in the fire having his first two starts in hostile environments like College Station, Texas and Knoxville, Tennessee. In his first start, Muschamp thought Driskel made some plays that showed just what he is capable of.

"I thought he played well," Muschamp said earlier of Driskel's play in a 20-17 win over Texas A&M. "Again, I thought he made some critical plays for us… the bootleg at the end, the third-down conversion at the end of the third quarter, flipping the field a little bit, crossing the 50 on third and 5. He managed our team well. We didn't have any procedure issues, play-call issues, none of that."

Muschamp also knows there is a lot of room for growth with Driskel, in all facets of his play as the quarterback.

"He does need to get rid of the football in some situations," the head coach said after Driskel refused to throw the ball away and lost sack yardage several times in the game. "We had some guys open we could have hit vertically down the field for some big plays, but again, the game will continue to slow down for him the more reps he gets, the more experience he gets, and that's what I felt like for both guys that as we work through the season was going to be the major issue… just getting the experience."

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is pleased with Driskel's progress as well. Pease helped Driskel during the game and there was a noticeable difference in making the right play with the ball in the second half as opposed to the first.

"He isn't down there on the field during the game, but every time we come off he talks to us through the headsets," Driskel said of Pease. "He corrects us so that we can improve on the next drive. He got it in my head that I have to throw the ball out of bounds.

Driskel said it is a point of emphasis this week to take care of the ball, but also know your surroundings and if he needs to get rid of it, that will happen.

"Just knowing that I don't have to make a play every time," he said about what they instilled. "Don't be scared to throw the ball away. We had too many sacks and most of them were on me. I need to throw the ball away or get it out quicker.

"We will focus on that a lot and know that Tennessee will come after me. It is on film that I will hold the ball too long and susceptible to hold the ball too long, try to get outside, and get away. But, I will learn from this game experience and get better from there.

"I am not exactly sure how many (sacks I took), but I have to get rid of the ball earlier and not lock in to the first read. I will live another day and if something isn't open, just throw the ball away."

The hardest hit he took on the day came because of a mistake he made in reading the defense.

"We were in an empty set and they brought a backer off the right side and I was looking left," he said. "I saw him at the last second and kind of had a little bit of time to defend myself, so that was the worst. I am fine. I am bigger than most of those guys out there. I can take a hit or two."

He also is caught in the rookie mode of staring down his first receiver and trying to wait for that guy to get open instead of moving through the offensive pass play progression and on to the next receiver or two in the play.

"I definitely locked in a little bit," he said. "That has something to do with being a new guy and having a running background. I know learning the offense and moving forward I will have a better understanding and not lock on to the first guy."

When he does get the chance to run, Driskel is confident in his ability to do so. Late in the game Saturday, Pease called for a naked bootleg on third down. Driskel made one rusher miss in the backfield and another miss just beyond the line of scrimmage to gain the first down, move the sticks, and get a few more yards in the process. He didn't really take a big hit on the play, but here were times in the game where he was knocked a little. The coaches have worked with him about sliding.

Driskel knows he has to be smarter and react quicker when using his feet.

"You never want to take that many hits," he said. "They told me at the beginning of the year that I need to slide. I am a bigger guy and can take a couple of hits. If I am going to get popped and I know it's coming I can slide, but I am a bigger guy and I feel like I can put my head down and get a few more yards. (Sliding) would definitely be different. I have never slid in the past."

The confidence in his game and his body is certainly something the staff had to see in Driskel to put him in charge of the offense.

"I want to have the ball in my hands that is for sure." He said. "I knew that bootleg was going to be wide open so I was excited to get an opportunity."

Some folks look at the pretty deep pass to Omarius Hines for 37 yards and think that was Driskel's best moment in the game. For Driskel it is all about making the play that needed to be made on 3rd down and moving the chains to score.

"I would say the first series… it was third and 15, I stepped up and hit Frankie across the middle," he said of the play he was most proud of in the game. "I stepped up and made the conversion.

Now his chore for the week is to go into Knoxville and help win the game in front of a 100,000 rabid Volunteer fans. He is confident in what his team can do this weekend and a lot of that comes from the experiences they gained in Texas last week.

"Kyle Field was bumping and they were loud the whole time," Driskel said. "We know Tennessee will be the same. We bounced back, responded well, and that will help us a lot going into Knoxville.

"I am confident, and was confident going into last week as well. 2-0 is obviously better than 1-0 and we made big plays when we needed to. We are definitely going to be confident going in."

The competition has their own weapon at quarterback and Tyler Bray leads the conference in most passing categories. The gun slinger is a good one that Driskel knows has some weapons at his disposal.

"He is a great player," Driskel said of Bray. " He can throw the ball deep as good as anyone. They aren't scared to throw the ball a lot and I would too with those receivers and their play making ability.

Of concern this week is the health of starting running back Mike Gillislee. Gillislee limped off the field after a touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators ahead. It was his last play in a game that was tight. He has practiced this week, but if he can't go 100%, Driskel likes what the other running backs have shown so far this fall.

Driskel knows how important Gillislee is.

"He is definitely a huge part and been running great," Driskel said of Gillislee. "But, we have depth and that is the great thing about us. We have Mack Brown, Matt Jones, and Juice Johnson behind him and they can all make plays.

"Our other backs are going to have to step up and they will be fine. I can make some plays with my feet, but I don't think I will have to."

It is quite apparent that even though they haven't gotten the ball a lot this year, the Florida receivers have been a pretty reliable group. We are seeing more guys make plays after the catch than we have seen in the last two years and the group as a whole look like they have putting in work.

"They have definitely improved," Driskel said of his receivers. "Every position has improved, but they definitely have. They definitely got open this week and made some plays."

One receiver in particular that has the fans puzzled about not being used is junior Andre Debose. Debose came to Florida as a five-star prospect out of high school. He has had more big plays than anyone else at the position, but it seems he is being utilized less than others. Driskel believes it is a matter of circumstance.

"That isn't on him," Driskel said of Debose not getting the ball. "He isn't the one throwing to himself. We have a bunch of playmakers and try to distribute the ball evenly. He just hasn't gotten the ball. It hasn't been anything he has done or anything like that. Obviously you have your progression on each play.

Maybe the Gators best target through the air so far has been junior tight end Jordan Reed. Reed caught five passes for 59 yards on Saturday and has already made several big first down plays in the first two games.

Reed continues to make plays.

"He is explosive and a matchup problem," Driskel said of Reed. "They have to bring down linebackers or safeties on him. I will take him one on one with anybody. He is definitely a guy we want to get the ball in his hands."

We also saw junior Trey Burton and senior Omarius Hines get in the mix at the position and make plays. Burton caught the first pass on the day and a first down while Hines had the longest play Saturday, a 37 yard corner pattern where he beat his man to the sideline on a great pass.

"The tight ends that we have are mismatch problems," Driskel said. "That is what football is … mismatches. When I see Omarius, Trey, or Jordan with a linebacker, I know they aren't going to be able to keep up with them."

After getting the win in his first start, being on the road, and having just about everything happen to him that can happen, Driskel took a lot away from the Gators first SEC win of the season.

"Just play with confidence and know you are a good player," he said. "Believe in the scheme and your teammates, that is the big thing."

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