Roper sees a confident Driskel

It’s an awkward situation at quarterback for Florida this week. Jeff Driskel was taken out of the game after the offense struggled for three quarters at Tennessee, but the sexual assault allegations against Treon Harris forced Driskel back into the starting lineup this week against LSU.

It’s a tough spot, even for a fourth-year quarterback that has played in some of the most difficult environments in the country. The Florida fan base and the offense received a spark when freshman Treon Harris scored 10 unanswered points to escape Knoxville with a win.

So what will the offense play like when Driskel runs out as the starter on Saturday night against LSU in The Swamp?

The coaches spent time going over film with the offense as a whole, pointing out areas that needed to improve around Driskel, trying to emphasize that the problems on offense aren’t completely his fault. Despite that, Driskel still has to play better and needs to maintain his confidence.

No one would blame him if his confidence were shaken. In his last two games, the junior quarterback is 20-51 for 152 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions. His longest pass play came on a 28-yard touchdown to Valdez Showers at Alabama.

“I have never seen him waver,” Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “He's a guy that has the right look in his eye. He is confident. Obviously, it's a challenge when you don't have the success in a game that you want to have. The first thing that you do is you start looking at yourself first, and he's that kind of guy.”

The confidence is the most important when the Gators kick off against the Tigers on Saturday. As strange as the situation is, it’s not new for Roper. He pulled starting quarterbacks twice at Duke -- Thad Lewis in 2009 and Sean Renfree in 2011 -- and went back to them both times.

At Florida, the situation is still different. There’s more pressure on the quarterback in Gainesville than the one in Duke. No matter how much Driskel tries to block out the external opinions of his play, he hears it and has to overcome it on Saturday.

“He's a guy that believes in himself and is going to continue to believe in himself,” Roper said. “He’s a talented guy. I don't think you can ever change, and he's worked that way on the practice field."

The key on Saturday will be getting off to a good start. That will include involving the Florida running game, especially against a struggling LSU run defense, but Driskel will still have to throw. Even if the targets are close to the line of scrimmage and include rolling Driskel out of the pocket to try making the throws easier, the Gators have to get his confidence up out of the gate.

If they come out and try to air it out with Driskel taking multiple shots down deep, the pressure will build and the boo birds will appear early in the game. For a struggling quarterback, that’s the last thing Florida needs to happen.

“It’s obviously not an easy situation to have struggles,” Roper said. “It’s not easy. At the same time, we’ve got to go win a football game. Awkward, tough, whatever you hear from the fans, whatever you feel, it doesn’t matter. Jeff understands his No. 1 responsibility is to help us go win a football game.

“Our responsibility as coaches is to help him push through that and help him understand we do have confidence in him. I’ve been around it before. I’ve seen guys push back through it, and that’s what Jeff has to be able to do.”

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