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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel led the Gators to a win in his first career start.

Sunday September 9, 2012Driskel Passes Difficult Test in First Career Start

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel led the Gators to a win in his first career start.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The start was good. The finish was better.

On his first drive as Florida's starting quarterback, sophomore Jeff Driskel led the Gators on a 15-play, 66-yard scoring drive Saturday against Texas A&M.

From that opening drive until the final play of Florida's 20-17 come-from-behind win over the Aggies, Driskel made some plays he'll remember for a while. He made some he would prefer to forget. The one he'll remember most is the final snap of the game.

Driskel took a few steps back, kneeled down, and waited for the final seconds to run off the Kyle Field scoreboard.

"That's the best play in football," Driskel said. "It was awesome. It was good to come out with a big win."

In his first career start, Driskel completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown or interception, efficiently managing the offense and making enough big plays in the second half when it mattered most.

Five days after Gators coach Will Muschamp met separately with Driskel and Jacoby Brissett to let them know that Driskel had earned the starting job following a closely contested battle in fall camp, Driskel helped spoil Texas A&M's SEC debut by leading the Gators back from a 17-7 deficit.

One play Driskel will want to add to his highlight film is a second-and-10 bootleg that essentially sealed Florida's first win over an SEC West team since 2009. Driskel raced 21 yards on the play to the Aggies' 34, forcing Texas A&M to burn its final two timeouts the next two plays.

"I knew the defense was going to bite on the power up the middle,'' Driskel said of the bootleg. "I was excited to get the chance to hit the edge and wanted to stay in bounds and secure the ball."

Another Driskel highlight came late in the third quarter when he hit Omarius Hines for a 39-yard pass that set up Florida's go-ahead touchdown.

While the Gators escaped a raucous Kyle Field with a victory in front of more than 87,000 disappointed fans, Driskel walked off the field knowing there is a lot he must improve on.

He was sacked eight times by the Aggies, who led the nation in sacks a year ago and often got help from Driskel on plays when he held onto the ball for too long.

Despite the sacks, Muschamp was pleased with the way Driskel handled the difficult assignment.

"I thought he played well,'' Muschamp said. "Again, you have to go back and watch film of the sacks. I do think he could have gotten rid of the ball at times ... but again, high [completion] percentage, [he] took care of the football.

"When you put a young quarterback in those situations and you get a win, that's very positive."

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease liked what he saw from the coaches' booth high above Kyle Field. With Pease digging deeper into his playbook than in the season opener, Driskel made some passes down the field.

There were others that Pease will show Driskel on film that he could have made. Still, for a young quarterback making his first start, Pease was pleased.

"I was on him during the game,'' Pease said. "He's going to wish he could have done better on this or that, but when it came down to some key times, he did some things.

"Some of those sacks are him scrambling and trying to run with the ball. When he's in that situation, he needs to learn to throw it away."

Perhaps as important as any pass or play Driskel made was the composure he showed in the second half when the game was on the line. He commanded the huddle, impressing his teammates with his leadership in the hostile environment.

"There was a lot of urgency to Jeff Driskel's game, especially in the fourth quarter,'' Gators guard Jon Halapio said. "He was very positive on the sidelines. When things didn't go our way, he lifted up the offensive line and everybody else around him."

Driskel said he knows he must do a better job at getting rid of the ball when under pressure. He plans to work on that this week in practice and will undoubtedly be analyzed by coaches in the film room.

Still, Muschamp made his feelings about Driskel's first game as the team's starter clear as he walked off the field and did an interview with ESPN.

"They asked me what I learned about Jeff Driskel,'' Muschamp said. "Nothing. I knew going in he was a tough guy. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know.

"I mean that as a big compliment."

Driskel earned it Saturday.

 

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