GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – True freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel has played in four of five games this season, but it wasn’t until the second half of the Alabama game that Gator fans got their first in-depth look at Driskel.
He replaced an injured John Brantley against an Alabama defense considered one of the best in the nation. As you might expect, Driskel struggled to find his footing on such short notice, finishing just 2 of 6 for 14 yards.
In his first season at UF, Driskel is a modest 7 of 16 for 73 yards and two interceptions. The biggest play of Driskel’s young career came on a third-and-14 in the third quarter against Alabama when he flashed some of the mobility he is known for and raced 31 yards for a first down.
The Gators will need more of those kinds of plays from Driskel if he starts at No. 1-ranked LSU on Saturday as expected. If so, he’ll become only the fifth true freshman quarterback to start for the Gators, joining Wayne Peace (1980), Donald Douglas (1989), Jesse Palmer (1997) and Chris Leak (2003).
Prior to the Alabama game, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said Driskel was firmly set as Brantley’s backup following a spotty performance at Kentucky when Driskel replaced an injured Brantley briefly late in the first half. Driskel was 0-for-3 with an interception and lost fumble, but Weis remained confident in Driskel’s ability despite some growing pains.
“He runs our team well,” Weis said. “The team is not afraid when he is in there. He can make every throw. Gaining experience, that's what he's doing. Every time he's out there it's a good thing regardless what happens because he's just gaining experience.”
Since Driskel is relatively new to the UF spotlight, here are 10 things you might not know about the freshman quarterback:
--This isn’t the first time Driskel has taken snaps as a freshman quarterback. As a freshman at Hagerty High in Oviedo, Driskel started eight games, the beginning of a prep career that ended with him throwing for 4,844 yards and 36 touchdowns. He is responsible for leading Hagerty to its first winning season in only the program’s fourth year of existence.
--Driskel’s athleticism is often cited when coaches and teammates talk about what he offers at quarterback that Brantley does not. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Driskel runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and can dunk a basketball from a standstill in flip-flops.
--Not only was Driskel considered the nation’s top prep quarterback recruit by Scout.com and Rivals.com as a senior at Hagerty, he was also homecoming king. He could have also chosen a professional baseball career. Driskel didn’t start playing football until seventh-grade because he played baseball growing up. He hit .330 in 2009 and scouts told his high school coaches that he was a good enough center fielder to go in the top 100 picks of the 2011 MLB Draft.
--Driskel lived in Japan for three years while growing up. His parents served on the U.S. Naval base in Sasebo during that time. Driskel’s father is a retired senior chief and his mother still works for the Naval Air Warfare Center. Both of Driskel’s grandfathers also served in the Navy.
--In Driskel’s final high school game in November, he went out with a career game by going 15-for-29 for 182 yards and rushing 20 times for 270 yards. The 452 yards of total offense were a career-high for Driskel in a 56-35 loss to traditional power Lakeland in the FHSAA playoffs. Driskel was named the Maxwell Football Club National High School Player of the Year and the Gatorade Florida Player of the Year after throwing for 1,819 yards and running for 1,333 as a senior.
--Driskel had offers from many of the top programs in the nation, including Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and Clemson. However, he committed to former Gators coach Urban Meyer and remained committed to the Gators once Will Muschamp took over the program. Driskel enrolled at UF in the spring semester and was able to participate in spring practice with the Gators, which has helped speed up his development.
--One of Driskel’s traits that seem to help him throw a football is his huge hands. Driskel’s hands measure nearly 8.5 inches from the wrist to the top of his middle finger. However, his pinkies are so crooked that his former flag football coach thought they were broken.
--When Driskel officially signed with the Gators, he became what is thought to be the first Orlando-area quarterback to sign a scholarship with the Gators since former Apopka High star Rodney Brewer in 1984. Coincidentally, prior to that, former Orlando Oak Ridge quarterback Tim Groves was the last Orlando-area signal caller to play for the Gators. Groves split time with John Brantley III – John Brantley’s dad – on the 1979 team.
--“The superlatives are numerous when discussing Driskel. He has excellent size, an NFL arm, and plus athleticism. He can throw the ball through a wall and run by most linemen and linebackers. He needs to work on protecting the ball by not forcing it into traffic when a play breaks down as well as tucking it away when he’s scrambling. There isn't a lot he can't do on the field. He just needs to learn to play within himself.’’ – Official scouting report on Driskel by Scout.com recruiting his senior season.
--While Driskel is one of three quarterbacks on the roster behind Brantley – redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and true freshman Jacoby Brissett are the others – first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp named him Brantley’s backup midway through camp.
“Jeff has kind of distanced himself right now to be the backup quarterback,'' Muschamp said then. “He played well in the scrimmage, has good command of the offense, and again I say at this point. Charlie [Weis] and I sat Jeff down and said at this point you’ve earned this opportunity. But you’re a day or two away from those other guys gaining on you because Tyler and Jacoby have done nothing to disappoint us. They are both outstanding and really coming along well.”