GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jeff Driskel played well enough in the season opener against Bowling Green that Gators coach Will Muschamp named him the starting quarterback following Driskel’s extended battle with Jacoby Brissett through spring practice and fall camp.
In his first career start, Driskel calmly led the Gators to a road win at Texas A&M in the Aggies’ SEC debut. In his second start, Driskel outshined Tennessee’s Tyler Bray to earn SEC Offensive Player of the Week. And in his first official home start, Driskel threw a career-high 27 times – completing 18 for 203 yards – as the Gators shut out Kentucky.
So far the Gators couldn’t have asked for a much better start from the sophomore from Oviedo. He’s not putting up Geno Smith-type numbers – unless it’s when he plays video games -- but Driskel is getting the job done heading into Saturday’s clash with No. 4-ranked LSU.
“He seems to get better with each throw,’’ Tigers coach Les Miles said at his Monday press conference.
Driskel ranks 11th among SEC quarterbacks in passing yards per game (174.5) and sixth in passing efficiency (55-for-79, 698 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 158.0 QB rating). While he is not on anyone’s Heisman list, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are not really concerned about that.
They want to see Driskel do more of what he has been doing on Saturday against the Tigers and their formidable defense, which ranks second in the SEC (217.8 yards per game) and features a daunting pass rush led by defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
“I think Jeff needs to be Jeff, we don’t need any superhuman effort out here,’’ Muschamp said. “We just need to go out and execute and play our game and that’s what we plan on doing. He doesn’t need to do any more than he’s done in the previous four weeks.”
Pease’s check list for Driskel is simple: take care of the football, manage the team efficiently, and complete a high percentage of his passes.
The last thing Pease wants to see is for Driskel to go out Saturday and try to defeat LSU by himself.
“This isn’t about Jeff Driskel,’’ Pease said Tuesday. “This is about 11 guys out there executing a plan. You never want him to press because then he is putting it all on his shoulders. He’s got to understand, ‘Hey, execute your job.’ His job is a little different at times because if something else breaks down, he’s got to be able to handle some things.
“There are variables in what he has to do. That’s what everybody is going to have to understand.”
Despite losing defensive playmaker and Heisman contender Tyrann Mathieu prior to the season, the Tigers have ample ways to cause Driskel and Florida’s offense trouble. Defensive end Lavar Edwards has 2 ½ sacks, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson and linebacker Kevin Minter each has 5 ½ tackles for loss, and six different Tigers have an interception.
Driskel has yet to face a defense as talented as LSU’s, a fact that hasn’t flown over his young head.
“They have speed all over the field, especially at defensive line,” Driskel said. “That front four is the best we’ll see all year. It’s loaded with first-round draft picks.”
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis uses an aggressive system that includes tight coverage on the outside and lots of pressure in the box against the run. If the Gators walk off Florida Field on Saturday with a victory, Driskel will have the biggest win yet of his young career.
Driskel did not play in Florida’s 41-11 loss at LSU a season ago. He suffered a sprained ankle in the loss to Alabama the previous week as Brissett became the first quarterback in UF history to make his first appearance in a Gators uniform as the starting quarterback.
Brissett endured a long day as LSU amassed 453 yards of total offense and limited the Gators to only 213. Brissett was 8 of 14 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
One way Pease hopes to buy Driskel extra time in the passing game is to use a variety of plays that get Driskel moving after the snap.
“They roll with two different groups, so they are rolling with seven, eight, nine different guys at times,’’ Pease said of LSU’s defensive line. “But their four-man rush really gets to you, so they don’t have to do a lot of blitzing. You’ve got to make sure you have answers for those guys all across the board that can beat you.
“Because of the four-man rush – they’ve got speed on the edges and power in the middle – you can’t just sit back there at seven yards and expect to pass the ball every play. You’ve kind of got to move him around. You’ve got to sprint out; you’ve got to roll him a little bit. You’ve kind of got to change where he is going to be so they are not always zeroed in. Their line charge has to change at times.”
Driskel said he expects to spend plenty of time in the film room this week looking at LSU’s defense and where the pressure comes from. He also likes to watch NFL film to see how some of the top quarterbacks react to certain situations.
But Pease said Driskel’s NFL film study is used more in the offseason than when preparing for a game like LSU during the season.
“We’re not big into a lot of adjustments like NFL teams,’’ Pease said. “We’ve got to operate a lot faster than they do. We don’t have microphones in our helmets to get the plays in quicker and stuff. He’s got to go out and understand what our objective is on each play. He’s got to break the defense down where the reads are and go with it.”