GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The one snap that turned Gators sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett from onlooker to participant came midway through the third quarter Saturday.
Florida starting quarterback Jeff Driskel went down with a sprained ankle and did not return.
Enter Brissett, who had not thrown a pass in a game since the season opener Sept. 1 against Bowling Green. To get him in the flow, offensive coordinator Brent Pease dialed up a screen pass to Mike Gillislee that gained one yard on Brissett’s first snap.
Fortunately for Brissett and the Gators, the best was yet to come in Florida’s 27-20 comeback win over Louisiana on Saturday.
Brissett had simple goals when he first jogged onto the field.
“Just to come in and pull it together and make sure I stay under control,’’ he said. “When I saw [Driskel] go down, I kind of pulled my helmet on and got ready. I knew it was real. I had to make sure I was ready.”
Brissett had played in just two of Florida’s eight games prior to Saturday, both times in mop-up duties in lopsided wins over Kentucky and South Carolina. He lost a quarterback battle with Driskel and was relegated to backup despite starting two games as a true freshman when senior quarterback John Brantley suffered an ankle injury.
Brissett answered the challenge Saturday, finishing 6 of 8 for 64 yards and one touchdown. The Gators led 13-10 when Brissett entered Saturday’s game. After the short pass to Gillislee failed to pick up a first down, he watched as Florida punter Kyle Christy’s kick was blocked by Bradley Brown and returned 22 yards for a touchdown by Blake Comminie.
Suddenly the No. 7-ranked Gators were down and faced the potential of a major upset on Homecoming.
As Driskel made his way to the locker room to receive treatment on his ankle, the Gators turned to Brissett to help them pull off another second-half comeback. Muschamp said afterward that Driskel did not break any bones in the ankle.
Brissett’s second series wasn’t much more meaningful than his first other than for a long pass to receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. that fell incomplete.
The Ragin’ Cajuns extended their lead to 20-13 early in the fourth quarter. However, after two more series that resulted in punts by Christy, the Gators got the ball back with 2:56 remaining at Louisiana’s 49-yard line.
On third-and-three, Brissett dropped back and found tight end Jordan Reed down the middle for a 39-yard gain to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 3. After a Florida timeout, Brissett rolled out to his right and hit Quinton Dunbar for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 left. Caleb Sturgis’ extra-point tied the game and Brissett flashed a wide smile on the sidelines.
Since losing out to Driskel for the starting quarterback’s job, Muschamp has constantly reminded Brissett that he is just one snap away from playing.
“That has been his approach,” Muschamp said. “I’ve got all the confidence in him. We didn’t even blink as far as the different things we knew he would be able to do and the success he would have.
“I think it’s hard [to do what he did],’’ Muschamp said. “I think it’s very difficult to come in in the middle of a series for a quarterback. We called a screen there. I think he did a fantastic job. I think he handled it very well.”
Prior to suffering the ankle injury, Driskel was 13 of 16 for 98 yards and a touchdown. He added 76 yards rushing on 12 carries and led the Gators on a nine-play, 85-yard drive right before halftime to give the Gators a 10-3 lead.
But the game quickly turned once Driskel got hurt, leaving Brissett in a difficult spot.
He was sacked twice early after coming in but kept his composure and eventually delivered big on his throws to Reed and Dunbar that led to the tying score.
“That’s great coaching by Coach Pease to have both quarterbacks ready at all times,’’ said Reed, who led the Gators with five catches for 85 yards. “That says he is a great player and is always working. I always see him in the film room no matter if he’s starting or not.”
Brissett said it took some time to adjust to the speed of the game, but once he took a few snaps, everything started to become familiar.
“When you are on the sideline it looks kind of different, but when you are on the field you really see what you’ve been practicing,’’ Brissett said.
Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins capped UF’s comeback when he returned Loucheiz Purifoy’s blocked punt 36 yards for the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left. He was thankful Brissett put the Gators in position to make his play count.
“I’m sure it’s very difficult [to come into a game like that], but that’s what he trains for,’’ Jenkins said. “I had faith when he got in there. I knew he was going to do a great job. He’s prepared for those situations. When Driskel went down, he was ready. He was just waiting on his opportunity.”
Yes, Brissett has waited all season. His time on the bench has sparked concern that he might transfer with Driskel locked in as the starter.
But one play altered the conversation Saturday. Asked about his future, Brissett responded:
“My future was today. One snap and it’s right there.”