Friday, September 7, 2012
Who will transform?
By Edward Aschoff
It didn't take long for Jeff Driskel to feel the heat as a freshman.
After taking the appropriate late-time snaps as a backup in three of Florida's first four games last season, Driskel, who was the No. 1 high school quarterback in the 2011 class, was thrown into a Crimson fire when starter John Brantley went down against Alabama.
Talk about pressure.
Driskel looked like a deer in headlights in the Deep South when Alabama's defense bore down and essentially made him obsolete, as he litterally limped his way through a rough loss to the eventual national champs.
Driskel got another shot against Auburn before he was eventually passed by fellow freshman Jacoby Brissett.
But Driskel enters Saturday as a new man. He went from frustrated by sitting and watching to being the guy in Gainesville, as he'll face Texas A&M as the Gators' starter.
It was a battle that began as soon as Brantley graduated, and ended halfway through Florida's opener with Bowling Green. Some might think it ended earlier, considering the amount of passes he attempted compared to Brissett in the first half of their alternating auditions.
Driskel received Tim Tebowesque praise from Florida's faithful when he committed to the Gators in April of 2010, and now that hype should creep back into the picture with him officially taking over the offense. Last season, Driskel worked for the first time in a pro-style offense and didn't fare so well. Granted, he dealt with an ankle injury for most of the year, but he just never seemed comfortable in Charlie Weis' offense.
Enter new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, and Driskel's confidence has increased. He wasn't great against Bowling Green, but he was a lot more comfortable than he's been in a Gators uniform. Expect Pease to open things up for Driskel and work to use his strengths as a runner against the Aggies this weekend.
"(I) just feel like Jeff with his legs gives us some different variables in our offense that can help us as we move forward," coach Will Muschamp said this week. "It'll be Jeff's game to play. I told Jeff, 'I don't want you looking over your shoulder, but you need to play well.'"
Driskel knows that Brissett is waiting in the wings, but it's his time with his team. That should take some pressure off of him.
What will also help is that he's facing a relatively unproven secondary. That could help with Driskel's nerves about throwing down field. Sure, that tremendous crowd will make things tough, but he can shut it up by going at that secondary.
Driskel won't turn into a franchise quarterback Saturday, but he has a chance to make strides as a starter and a leader. He's been inconsistent to this point, but the spotlight is all his. We'll see a different Driskel out on Kyle Field Saturday.