Roper confident in Driskel as Gators’ QB

Jeff Driskel’s issues against Alabama haven’t decreased the confidence in him from the coaching staff. Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper still believes in his quarterback as the Gators head to Knoxville this weekend.

The bye week only encouraged the coaches that they have the right man at quarterback. Kurt Roper admitted mistakes of his own in Tuscaloosa. The Gators got into multiple third-and-long scenarios, and he dialed up an aggressive play call to take a shot at picking up the first down.

The Gators were just 2-of-13 on third downs, and Roper blamed the inability to have success on the early downs for putting Driskel in a difficult situation on third-and-long. He also echoed the thoughts of Florida coach Will Muschamp that there are plenty of other problems around the quarterback.

“It's not just him,” Roper said. “He threw a couple of interceptions on third-and-longs when I put him in an aggressive call in the mindset of trying to make a play. It's all around. It's me as a play-caller, it's him as a decision-maker, it's the route-running -- all of it together, we've just got to get better at.”

Roper and Muschamp have openly endorsed Driskel this week, but they’ve both also echoed that the quarterback has to play better. He has missed too many open throws, especially in conference games against Kentucky and Alabama. It was the main focus of the bye week. Driskel took a majority of the first team reps to make sure he had extra time with his receivers.

"We've got to be more productive in the passing game,” Roper said. “I think that's the biggest issue. Even in that (Alabama) game, we had some production in the run game. We've got to get more productive in the pass game."

The film only made the coaches more convinced that it will come. They broke down every third-down snap in the three games this season and found 37 times that Driskel dropped back to throw. According to the coaches, Driskel made a mistake on only eight of the opportunities.

That isn’t to say that everything went perfect and the Gators picked up a first down, but the coaches did see Driskel make the right read and an accurate throw on the remaining 29 snaps.

Roper deflected questions about a change at quarterback, saying that is completely up to Muschamp if it comes to that.

They’ve also been working Harris into practice some to prepare him in case Driskel gets injured. Muschamp and Roper said before the season that they wanted to get him reps in the game to prepare the freshman for a situation like that, but they’ve also said the situation hasn’t presented itself in the last two games. The reason, according to Roper, is a lack of understanding of the offense that they’re trying to correct with more practice reps.

“His understanding is not where it needs to be, and that's not because he doesn't work hard at it or he's not getting reps,” Roper said. “It's simply age and number of repetitions and practices he's had. When he goes in, we're going to ask him to do things that we think that he's mentally prepared for. But the reason that decision wasn't made is because we feel that Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win football games."

The Gators could use Harris in wildcat packages, like they did in the season-opener against Eastern Michigan. Roper doesn’t think that would be an advantage in a short-yardage situation though. Driskel’s 235-pound frame gives him a better chance to pick up yards on a quarterback keeper, compared to the 190-pound Harris.

While the Florida fan base calls for Harris to get more reps on the field, Roper said the freshman has remained levelheaded and continues to spend time learning under Driskel.

“He is one of Jeff Driskel’s strongest supporters,” Roper said. “He loves being in that room, loves being around Jeff, supports Jeff and knows he’s working every day to get better and eventually be the quarterback.”

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