Driskel saw it.
He knew the blitzing corner meant there was an open receiver to his right. With Gordon steps away from delivering a sack and bringing the ball back to the Tennessee offense with a chance to tie the game, Driskel delivered the throw that put the game out of reach. And 75 yards later, the celebration on the Florida sideline began.
The throw wasn't his most impressive of the day—the 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed in the front of the end zone took that accomplishment—but it showed a lot of how far Driskel has come. It wasn't about the throw. It was about the quick decision-making.
Tennessee was bringing seven defenders after Driskel, and Florida only had six left to pass protect. He saw it before the snap and knew what he needed to do. The adjustment was one Driskel admitted he wasn't capable of making during his first start of the year.
"I think I try and get outside of that guy and try to beat him with my feet rather than knowing that's my answer to that blitz," Jeff Driskel said. "Just the film study, and Coach Pease really drilling it in that we have beaters for blitzes, you don't always have to beat them with your feet. Studying the film really helped out there."
The decision making showed some of the sophomore's maturity in a three-week span, but it's wasn't in the top two throws offensive coordinator Brent Pease thought he made. The first one Pease singled out came on the touchdown pass to Reed.
The second one was something different. Driskel faked the handoff to Matt Jones out of the backfield and rolled to his right. To his left, he saw Reed running open to the corner of the end zone. He also saw some orange coming his way. Linebacker Curt Maggitt was blitzing up the middle. Driskel had two choices—tuck it and try to avoid the pressure or take the hit while trying to deliver the throw.
He went with the latter.
One week after being sacked eight times and having six blamed on him, Driskel got the ball out at the perfect time and dropped it into Reed's arms for the go-ahead touchdown. That's the one the quarterback was most proud of.
"There was some pressure on me and I threw off my back leg," Driskel said. "I knew the route and knew where he was. It was cleared out over there. I just threw it out there and gave him a chance to make a play and he did."
The second throw that Pease complimented was one that no other player, including Driskel, mentioned from the game. However, just as important as the completions and reading the defense, Driskel showed his ability to realize when there isn't a positive play to make.
"The other one was on a 3rd and 12. He dropped back, the routes weren't there and he threw the ball away," Pease said, realizing the surprised response from those in the room as he explained a drive coming to an end. "He threw the ball away. We punted and then our defense stops them. I think we got the ball back and scored right there. He just made good decisions that way."
There were times when Driskel saw what was happening better than his offensive coordinator in the booth. Two plays after Lerentee McCray's interception during the first quarter, the Gators were faced with a 2nd and 9 from the Tennessee 34-yard line. Driskel felt the pass rush and moved slightly to his left before hitting Reed for a 20-yard gain on his first throw of the game.
After Trey Burton cashed in a 14-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat on the next play, Driskel made his way to the sideline and put the headset on to talk with Pease. Pease was preparing Driskel for the next drive against the Tennessee defense that was playing with two high safeties.
That's when Driskel cut him off.
The Tennessee defense switched on the 2nd and 9 throw to play with one high safety, and Driskel caught it.
"When I go back and look at the film, he saw it better than I did," Pease said. "Jordan was in the right spot and when the pocket started to move a little bit he slid around and made a big play. So now, as quarterback, you still have your reads and you still have to make your throws, but how you're handling the pocket and moving and helping the linemen, that's all kind of coming together for him."
The throws showed part of the quarterback Driskel is learning to become, but his legs added another dimension. Head coach Will Muschamp pointed out after the game and on Monday morning that Tennessee plays a "pattern match" defense, which forces their cornerbacks to turn their backs to the line of scrimmage and run with receivers. It's often the same type of defense that Florida plays.
And it struggles with running quarterbacks.
When the ball is snapped and the cornerbacks turn their backs to run, the sides of the field open up for a quarterback that can get there before the defense can adjust. It helped Driskel run the ball eight times for 83 yards.
"He knew it going into the game they were a pattern match team," Muschamp said. "And when they did a good job matching the routes, when he was able to pull the ball down and they don't have anyone left for the quarterback. In those situations, it's very difficult."
The difficulty of leading the team to two wins in hostile environments like Texas A&M and Tennessee is a situation Muschamp said earlier in the week was tougher than any setup to a schedule he has been a part of for a first-year starter under center. Driskel got through it and carries the 3-0 Gators to a home game against Kentucky this weekend, and the head coach firmly has his back.
"I've always felt like, from a potential standpoint, he had everything that he needed to be successful. There's no question about that. It's a maturing process as a player, especially at that position. It's very difficult to play that position as a freshman, and he was put in a tough situation his first year here. It's just hard to walk in and play as a freshman at any position, much less the quarterback position at the University of Florida.
"The game has slowed down for him. He's able to anticipate things more. He's able to see things more. He understands a little bit more about coverage concepts and where the rotation is and where the pressure may come based on the tilt of the safeties. There's so many things in the learning process of being a young player, but even more so at that position because you've got to understand how the other 10 are working on that side of the ball and also have a great understanding of what's happening on defense."
So far, so good.