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Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel hopes to close out his sophomore season with a win in the Sugar Bowl.

Sunday December 30, 2012Gators QB Driskel Would Welcome Comparison to Tebow's Sugar Bowl Performance

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel hopes to close out his sophomore season with a win in the Sugar Bowl.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- As far as goodbyes go, former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow went out in style three years ago here in the Sugar Bowl.

Jeff Driskel hopes to say goodbye to his first season as Florida's starting quarterback in memorable fashion, too.

Driskel was a junior at Oviedo's Hagerty High in January 2010 when Tebow capped his outstanding UF career by throwing for a Sugar Bowl-record 482 yards in a 51-24 win over Cincinnati.

He remembers watching on TV as Tebow shredded Cincinnati's defense. Now it's Driskel's turn to take center stage in the Superdome when the Gators face Louisville on Wednesday.

"He had a huge game,'' Driskel said Sunday. "He went out with a bang for sure. Hopefully we can put on a show like that."

In Driskel's first season as UF's starting quarterback, the Gators' offense has been more about efficiency than fireworks. Driskel's best passing game came in his second career start, a 37-20 win at Tennessee. He finished 14 of 20 for a career-high 219 yards and two touchdowns.

Driskel said he thought his best play of the season came in that game -- a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed that gave Florida a 27-20 lead with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.

On the play Driskel avoided pressure in the pocket, drifted to his right, and then threw a perfect spiral across the field to Reed inside the left corner of the end zone.

The victory over the Vols is the last time Driskel threw for 200 yards, an eight-game stretch -- Driskel missed the Jacksonville State game with an ankle injury -- a stretch that includes four games with less than 100 yards passing.

"At the end of the day, we're 11-1,'' Driskel said. "Our main goal on offense is to win games and we've done that consistently. Yes, we would like to have more explosive plays and have more yards and more touchdowns and stuff like that, but at the end of the day it's about winning games and we're doing that."

While he has never put up the kind of numbers Tebow did in his final college game, Driskel has one thing in common with the Florida icon: he wins.

He led the Gators to wins at Texas A&M, Tennessee and Florida State, and at home against LSU and South Carolina. Driskel did it by mostly taking care of the ball -- he threw only three interceptions -- and managing the offense by not trying to do too much.

"I think his confidence continued to build,'' Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "I've seen it at times during the whole season. I've really seen it here at the practices for the bowl.

"I've sensed that from him in his communications on the phone between plays, he's seeing things. He is a pretty consistent kid. He doesn't let a lot get to him."

Driskel quickly showed why Gators coach Will Muschamp named him the starting quarterback over fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett. In Driskel's first official career start, a 20-17 win at Texas A&M, he finished 13 of 16 for 162 yards, didn't throw an interception and had a 21-yard run. The ability to escape the pocket and make big plays on the run is an integral part of Driskel's game.

"The steps he made for that game, to get us that W that early in the season, to start us off on our SEC road, that was the turnaround for him in leading this team and this offense,'' senior receiver Frankie Hammond said.

The victory also was a confidence boost -- at least for coaches and fans.

"I feel like I've been confident the whole season,'' Driskel said. "It's never been a lack of confidence."

As the No. 3-ranked Gators (11-1) try to finish off their road back to relevancy with a 12-win season, Driskel is crucial to how their encore performance goes next season. As a freshman Driskel fell behind Brissett in former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' pro-style offense.

Enter Pease and his version of a pro-style offense, and Driskel won the job and hasn't looked back. Muschamp said recently that Driskel is clearly the team's starting quarterback heading into the offseason.

Refinement is the next step of Driskel's journey.

"He's a good athlete, that was from Day 1,'' Pease said. "I think he's gotten better. Now it's just a development of all the different aspects of offense, whether you open it up and let him throw it a little more, throw it downfield, or have more checks at the line -- those type of things."

Gators senior running back Mike Gillislee is confident that Florida's offense is in good hands with Driskel at the controls.

He is very confident.

"He's the fastest quarterback I've ever seen,'' said Gillislee, who took handoffs from Tebow in the Sugar Bowl three years ago. "Tebow is a different kind of fast. Driskel is an explosive fast. That's the difference.

"Tim Tebow is a great quarterback. I won't take anything from him, but I think Driskel is going to be a lot better. He's good."

Hammond agrees with Gillislee about Driskel's speed compared to Tebow.

"I think he's a lot faster than Tebow. Now Tebow would probably run a few more people over than he would,'' Hammond said. "They bring two different things to the table. Either way, they get it done -- whether you run around them or you run through them."

The Driskel-Tebow comparisons are nothing new. The 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel has heard those since he committed to the Gators.

Louisville defensive coordinator Vince Bedford, a Florida assistant the last time the Gators played in the Sugar Bowl, unearthed the Tebow comparisons Sunday.

"You could see a version of Tim Tebow in him,'' Bedford said of Driskel's recruitment. "He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he's athletic. How many quarterbacks across the country can run a 4.5 [40-yard dash] flat?

"We have a concern about containing Jeff."

Driskel hopes to justify that concern with a sweet finish to his sophomore season.


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