GatorZone.com Senior Writer
AUBURN, Ala. – Since the moment Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw sacked Gators starting quarterback John Brantley, Florida’s season has taken a turn for the worse.
Brantley hasn’t played since and several question marks have hovered over the offense, more specifically true freshmen quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. One of those questions was answered in Saturday’s 17-6 loss to Auburn.
Driskel’s ankle appears fine. After replacing Brantley in the loss to Alabama, Driskel finished the game but suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the LSU loss, forcing Brissett unexpectedly into the huddle.
Brissett made his second straight start on Saturday, finishing 5-for-10 for 45 yards and an interception. With the Gators in search of a spark, Driskel played the second half and went 9-for-18 for 75 yards.
“We had six points at halftime,’’ Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “We needed to do something differently than what we were doing. If you continue to do the same stuff you get the same results.’’
With Brissett finding it difficult to move the Gators down the field consistently in the first half, sophomore Trey Burton took snaps at quarterback as well, temporarily providing a change-of-pace look that led to the Gators’ first score – a 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter that trimmed Auburn’s lead to 7-3.
Brissett then went 4-for-5 for 31 yards on an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive than resulted in Sturgis’ 25-yard field goal to bring the Gators to within a point, 7-6.
Enter Driskel in the third quarter.
“We knew Jeff was going to play in the game,’’ Muschamp said. “Jacoby’s play was nothing we were disappointed with, we just weren’t moving the ball effectively enough. We felt like we needed a change and Jeff had a couple of nice drives. We need to play better around both guys.’’
After a three-and-out on his Driskel’s first series, the Gators missed one of their best scoring opportunities of the night on one of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ most creative play calls.
Facing second-and-1 from Auburn’s 48, Driskel handed off to Chris Rainey, who then pitched the ball back to Driskel. The freshman from Oviedo had tight end Jordan Reed open down the field for what would have been a touchdown pass if Driskel had not overthrown Reed by about 5 yards.
“It was wide open,’’ Muschamp said. “We need to hit that and we need to take advantage of those situations when we have opportunities to hit those.”
The Gators failed to score in the second half and finished with a season-low 194 yards of total offense.
With two weeks until their next game on Oct. 29 against Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida could use Brantley back in the lineup more than ever. Brantley, still wearing a large protective boot on his right lower leg, watched the game from the sideline on Saturday. He watched the LSU game from the coaches’ booth.
When asked if Brantley will be available against Georgia, Muschamp said “I’m hoping so. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. His rehab has gone very well.’’
If not, the Gators can only hope that either Brissett or Driskel takes command over the next two weeks and shows an ability to make plays and avoid costly mistakes in Jacksonville. The Gators have scored just 17 points in 10 quarters since Brantley’s injury, have not led at any point, and have managed only 453 yards of total offense in that span – or 67 fewer than they had in a 48-10 win at Kentucky on Sept. 25.
Similar to Florida’s 41-11 loss at LSU, Muschamp didn’t blame Saturday’s loss to Auburn on his young quarterback tandem.
“Both guys didn’t really do anything that killed us in the game,’’ Muschamp said. “But again, [they] didn’t do enough to really help our football team. The more reps and the more turns those young men get, they are going to be really good football players.
“I’m excited about both of them. We just need to continue to move forward. It’s been tough with Jeff being hurt a little bit and going into the fifth week of the season Jacoby didn’t have a whole lot of reps because he was the third-stringer. That’s the reality of it but that’s part of the game.’’
Receiver Frankie Hammond had four catches for a team-high 40 yards. While Brantley’s experience is missed, he said both Brissett and Driskel are coming along.
“They both made throws,’’ Hammond said. “We had complete confidence coming into this game.’’
The Gators will return to practice this week with many of the same questions still hovering over Driskel and Brissett.
Muschamp will continue working to find the answers, knowing that they won’t come easy.
“Playing a true freshman quarterback in this league is difficult,’’ Muschamp said. “They’re going to be fine. But you can’t score six points and win the game. It’s going to be tough. You’ve got to score more points than that. It’s not all their fault. We’ve got to play better up front. We’ve got to play better at the wideout position. We’ve got to develop some things in the running game.
“We’ve got to do a lot.”