GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – You knew Saturday at The Swamp was going to be interesting as soon as sophomore quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett both ran onto the field for Florida’s first offensive play of the game.
Brissett lined up at quarterback and Driskel at receiver. That’s one way to solve a quarterback battle. Move one guy to a new position.
“It was a little weird. I definitely wanted to catch a pass if that was an option,’’ Driskel said. “I’m 2-for-2 in my career catching balls. It was good to get us both out there on the first play.”
Of course, Gators coach Will Muschamp had no intentions of calling a play for Brissett to throw to Driskel. It was a chance to reward both players after their closely contested battle in fall camp to win the starting quarterback’s job.
That was the biggest question mark hanging over the Gators entering Saturday’s 27-14 win over the Falcons.
Was Driskel going to start? Was it going to be Brissett? The one question not asked: Were they both going to start?
Muschamp explained the decision shortly after the Gators’ 23rd consecutive season-opening victory.
“I just felt that both of them deserved to start,’’ Muschamp said. “Based on their training camp, being two of our better players on the offensive side of the ball, they both deserved to trot out there and start the game and that was what we came up with.”
After Brissett took the first snap and handed off to Mike Gillislee, Driskel’s day at receiver was over. The Gators then reverted to the plan that Muschamp outlined earlier in the week with one of the quarterbacks playing in the first quarter and the other in the second quarter.
Driskel got the nod in the first quarter after Brissett went to the sideline. Brissett came in for the second quarter. At halftime, the race in on the stat sheet was as even as it was before the game.
Driskel was 4-for-5 for 27 yards and Brissett 3-for-5 for 31 yards.
That’s when Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease re-evaluated and opted to go with Driskel the entire second half. The sophomore from Oviedo, who was ranked by many analysts as the top quarterback prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, finished 10-for-16 for 114 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed three times for 24 yards, including a 26-yard run in the fourth quarter.
It was a modest performance in the most extensive outing of Driskel’s young career. He wasn’t asked to do much in the passing game other than not to turn the ball over – he didn’t – and to manage the offense efficiently.
Driskel’s highlight came courtesy of Frankie Hammond, who took a short pass, escaped the clutch of Bowling Green cornerback Cameron Truss, and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown to put the Gators up 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
The play allowed the nervous crowd of 84,704 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to exhale.
So, with Driskel playing the entire second half, another question surfaced after the game: Is he the starter at Texas A&M next Saturday in the SEC debut for the Aggies? The game is interesting enough that ESPN announced late Saturday that “College GameDay” will be in College Station next week.
Muschamp wasn’t ready to make that declaration in the wake of the come-from-behind win over the Falcons.
“I haven’t made that decision,’’ he said. “We felt like Jacoby did a good job – it’s nothing he wasn’t doing. I felt like the rhythm of the game dictated that we were going to need some pocket movement. I felt like that in today’s game the flow of the game was in Jeff.
“We’re trying to be fair to everybody. We gave Jeff the first quarter and Jacoby the second quarter, and based on the flow of the game, that’s where it presented itself.”
Driskel dismissed any concerns about not knowing if the job was his moving forward?
“I’m not worried about that,’’ he said. “The goal was to get a win and that’s what we came out with. We were worried about Game 1 and that’s it. We are happy with the win.”
Muschamp said he plans to meet with Pease on Sunday to further evaluate the quarterback position. Regardless if Driskel starts at A&M or Brissett, the Gators walked off the field Saturday with some questions better answered than others.
Can Mike Gillislee be the power running back Muschamp so covets? Based on Gillislee’s career-high 24 carries and 148 yards on Saturday, that appears to be a yes.
Is the offensive line improved? Is the defense as good as advertised? Can the receivers make more big plays like Hammond’s on Saturday? And what’s up with the penalties?
The Gators committed 14 penalties for 106 yards Saturday, disrupting drives on offense and allowing Bowling Green to keep drives alive and The Swamp on edge for most of the afternoon.
None of the players called Saturday’s victory a home run, more like a ground-rule double that left them wanting more.
“It’s our first game of the year,’’ fifth-year senior Omar Hunter said. “This team is a new team -- it’s not the same team from last year. This is our first game ever playing together. Bowling Green came in with a good scheme. This team is going to get better. I’ve been around some pretty good teams here and they didn’t have that many penalties.”
The Gators did manage to force two turnovers, one an interception by cornerback Marcus Roberson in his first game since a season-ending neck injury last season at South Carolina. They rushed for 220 yards, a positive Muschamp pointed out.
As for all those fans on Twitter and Facebook and message boards complaining about the new offense looking too much like last year’s offense, Muschamp said he dialed it down on purpose Saturday, not giving Pease much of a chance to flip deep into his playbook.
He said there was a reason the Gators tried time and time again to run the ball in short-yardage situations despite Bowling Green stacking the line of scrimmage.
“I was very stubborn about wanting to run the ball in those situations,’’ he said. “You can preach a certain sermon over and over and over again, but until you are willing to go do it out there in front of the Gator Nation and the fans, it’s not what you are actually about.
“We are going to be a physical organization, and you’ve got to do it, you can’t talk about it.”
They stopped talking Saturday and finally played. And despite some of the same questions still looming entering Game 2 as Game 1, Muschamp summed up his thoughts this way:
“I like this football team,’’ he said. “I like where we are. I wanted to be 1-0 leaving today and that’s what we are. Are there things we need to work on? Yes.”