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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has done most of his damage of late on the ground.

Tuesday October 16, 2012Gators Refuse to Fret Over Lack of Passing Yards as Long as Wins Come

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has done most of his damage of late on the ground.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A confluence of rare circumstances has created a curious tone leading up to Saturday’s Florida-South Carolina game at The Swamp.

First, let’s consider this oddity: Florida enters the game with 138 yards passing in its last two games. When South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was calling ball plays for the Gators, his quarterbacks often threw for 138 yards in a quarter.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel passed for 61 yards in the Gators’ upset of No. 4-ranked LSU two weeks ago. He picked up the pace in Saturday’s win at Vanderbilt, throwing for 77 yards. While the Gators won both games, it marked the first time since 1989 – the year before Spurrier took over the Gators – which Florida passed for less than 100 yards in back-to-back games.

Second, Spurrier’s Gamecocks don’t exactly remind anyone of his Fun N’ Gun days in Gainesville. They really never have. In eight seasons at South Carolina, Spurrier has adapted to the times as SEC defenses adapted to his offensive trickery. South Carolina relies heavily on tailback Marcus Lattimore to run between the tackles and quarterback Connor Shaw to manage the offense efficiently.

That plan sounds very similar to the way Gators coach Will Muschamp relies on the dual-threat Driskel and running back Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC in rushing.

Finally, in a season and a half and perhaps quicker than most expected, Muschamp has rebuilt the Gators into a grind-it-out, physical football team like the former defensive coordinator envisioned when he replaced Urban Meyer. Other than for a 38-0 win over Kentucky, the Gators haven’t blown anyone out, but much more important to Muschamp, they haven’t lost.

“I think we’re playing really good team football right now,’’ Muschamp said. “I believe you need to do what it takes to win games, so [if] that means we need to throw it 60 times a game, then let’s throw it 60 times.”

The Gators haven’t had to throw it much at all the past two weeks. In the wins over LSU and Vanderbilt, Driskel threw the ball seven times combined in the second half. The lack of yards through the air has dropped the Gators to last in the SEC in passing at 145 yards per game.

Even Spurrier said Tuesday that throwing the ball around the field isn’t always the best plan. South Carolina is seventh in the league in passing (217.9 yards per game). For perspective, in Spurrier’s 12 seasons at Florida, the Gators never averaged less than 263.8 yards passing a game in a season (1999).

There’s all kind of ways to win the game,” Spurrier said. “You don’t have to throw the ball to win championships.”

Still, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease know that to continue to win, the passing game needs to wake up. At least open one eye.

Pease is studying ways to create more balance but won’t alter what is working in a game if the defense can’t stop it.

“If Jeff Driskel can carry the ball 70 yards and outrun everybody, he’s getting the ball,” Pease said Tuesday. “If Mike Gillislee can get the ball and outrun everybody, he’s getting the ball. And if our O-line blocks like they block, we’re giving them the ball. I’m not going to be stubborn as far as playing off numbers every week. I’m going to do what’s best for this team and what they create for us to be productive and score points and win football games.”

In the win over Vanderbilt, Driskel rushed for 177 yards, a single-game record for a Gators quarterback. While he rarely threw after halftime, the Gators dropped some passes in the first half that would have boosted the passing game’s production.

Driskel was also without tight end Jordan Reed for most of the first half. Reed, Florida’s leading receiver with 21 catches for 237 yards, left the game early due to an undisclosed injury and didn’t return until the second half.

With Driskel shredding Vanderbilt’s defense for touchdown runs of 37, 13 and 70 yards on zone-read runs, Pease continued to run the offense through his dangerous athletic ability.

You’ve got to understand something -- there’s always give-and-take and we’ve got a game plan every game,” Pease said. “In [the Vanderbilt] game, knowing how the game flows and what you can do, all of a sudden we find a couple of plays that we can hit on that they can’t adjust to. We stay with that and see if they can find answers to them. They didn’t find some answers to a few plays.

“When we go in and you hit 10 plays for explosive plays, the bottom line is -- run them again. Run them again,” Pease said. “Let's not get greedy here as a coach and say, 'I don't like that, I'm throwing the ball because that's what we all love to do.’ ”

South Carolina, like LSU, features a physical and talented defense led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker Shaq Wilson and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. Muschamp said Gamecocks cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton might be the best tandem the Gators have faced this season.

That could mean trouble finding open receivers for Driskel.

Whether the Gators pass more than they have lately or not, Driskel isn’t concerned about anything other than the final score.

I didn’t realize we were last in passing, but we’re first in the East,” he said. “We’re undefeated. We haven’t dropped a game yet. If you’re winning, everything’s all right. Obviously we got to get better in the passing game, but we’re winning games.

“That’s all that matters.”


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