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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel seeks to improve on avoiding sacks and big hits as he prepares for his second start.

Monday September 10, 2012Driskel's To-Do List: Avoid Unnecessary Sacks and Big Hits

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel seeks to improve on avoiding sacks and big hits as he prepares for his second start.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Old habits are hard to break. That goes for starting quarterbacks, too.

Prior to his first career start on Saturday at Texas A&M, the last time Jeff Driskel took the field knowing the game was his from start to finish was in November 2010. He was a senior at Hagerty High and in his final game – a loss to Lakeland in the state playoffs – all Driskel did was account for 494 yards of total offense, including 270 yards rushing on 20 carries.

Back then, the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel was as big as or bigger than most of the players trying to tackle him. That’s not the case in the rough-and-tumble SEC.

Gators coach Will Muschamp will undoubtedly remind Driskel of that fact more than once this week as the Gators travel to Tennessee.

In Saturday’s 20-17 win over Texas A&M, Driskel was 13-for-16 for 162 yards. He also picked up 56 yards on his six rushing attempts that were not sacks. However, Driskel was sacked eight times by the Aggies and showed a tendency of holding onto the ball too long. Instead of throwing it away, Driskel often endured contact by taking a sack.

As he prepares for his second start, Driskel is determined to make better decisions when the defense gets too close for comfort.

“We’ll be focusing on that lot,’’ Driskel said Monday. “We know that Tennessee will definitely be coming after me, because we put on film that I’m susceptible to holding the ball too long or try to get outside and not throw it away. But I’ll definitely work on that.

“Knowing that you don’t have to make a play every time [is something I learned]. Don’t be scared to throw the ball away and live another day.”

While the eight sacks against the Aggies weren’t in the gameplan, Driskel managed the game well in other areas and made plays when he had to. He said his favorite pass from his first start was a 17-yard throw to receiver Frankie Hammond on the Gators’ first drive.

The play came on third-and-11 from UF’s 37 and kept a drive alive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Mike Gillislee. Driskel showcased his running ability on the game’s final drive when he virtually sealed the victory with a 21-yard run on a bootleg.

A two-way threat in high school, Driskel rushed for more than 1,300 yards his senior season and one reason he edged fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett out for the starting quarterback’s job is because of his athleticism and ability to make plays with his legs.

Still, there is a fine line on how many hits the Gators want Driskel to take.

“We want him to get down more in situations and obviously be smart in the situation,” Muschamp said. “It’s easy to sit here and talk about it as opposed to when there’s 90,000 people and you’re scrambling and you got a 300-pounder chasing you and you know where the first-down marker is and you want to get the first down.”

Driskel may have an easier time adjusting to throwing the ball away than sliding when he runs. He said Monday that has never been his style.

“I’m a bigger guy. I can take a couple of hits. If I’m going to get popped, and I know it’s coming, then I’ll slide,’’ Driskel said. “I’m a bigger guy and I feel that I can put my head down and get a few more yards. It would definitely be different. I’ve never slid in the past.”

Driskel did acknowledge that “you never want to take that many hits.”

This week will be as much about continuing to learn on the job as anything for Driskel. In two games Driskel has hit 71.9 percent of his passes (23 of 32, 276 yards) and thrown one touchdown and no interceptions.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said following Saturday’s game that once Driskel reviews the film, he will see there were big plays left on the field. Even Driskel’s longest pass of the game – a 39-yard completion to Omarius Hines early in the fourth quarter – could have gone for more according to Pease.

“When we look at it, if we can polish the route up, he probably has a touchdown,’’ Pease said. “Keep it vertical. But clutch throw, clutch catch, kid ran it with speed, line gave him time, big-time play. We didn’t put ourselves into being totally conservative. We kept things open and helped ourselves out.”

Overall, Muschamp remained pleased with the way Driskel handled himself in his first start. He has said all along that there would be a learning curve. We learned on Saturday that two of those lessons for Driskel are learning when to throw the ball away and when to get down and avoid a hit.

“He does need to get rid of the football in some situations. We had some guys open that we could have hit vertically down the field for some big, big plays,” Muschamp said. “But again, the game will continue to slow down for him the more reps he gets, the more experience he gets.

“He’s hard on himself. He’s a competitor. He’s tough. He’s shown all of the things that I’ve seen and that we’ve seen throughout his time here at Florida.”

 

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