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Jeff Driskel fighting off another challenge at Florida

10/15/2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was supposed to be so different. Every story, every prediction, every quote in the offseason said this would be Jeff Driskel's year.

But so far, the Florida quarterback's junior season is no different than his first three.

Criticism, confusion and competition never cease to follow Driskel, the former No. 1 high school quarterback prospect in the nation.

At the midpoint of the season, Florida (3-2, 2-2 in the SEC) just can't seem to shake out of the offensive doldrums that have plagued the program since Driskel's arrival.

Much of the blame has fallen on the fourth-year quarterback.

"Yeah, there's a lot out there so you can't really shield yourself from all of it," Driskel said recently, adding that he tries to stay off of social media. "That's just part of playing quarterback here.

"You've just got to be even-keeled and keep moving forward. I'm grown. I can handle it."

Born and raised in Oviedo, Florida, Driskel knew what he was getting into at Florida when he committed to play for Urban Meyer in 2010. What he couldn't have foreseen was three offensive coordinators in a three-year span.

Brent Pease, Florida's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who was fired last December after a 4-8 season, has sympathy for Driskel's situation.

"What life’s all about is finding a comfort zone, a security blanket," Pease said. "You know, I’m sure I was different than Charlie Weis and Kurt Roper is different than me. It’s tough no matter what. I don’t think you can find a lot of success when that happens."

Roper, Florida's current coordinator, and Pease agree that Driskel has the mental toughness to handle the role. But expectations have always been so high.

"Even if you accomplish something well, is it going to be enough at Florida?" Pease said. "It’s hard on him. Eventually all that stuff does wear down on you."

Pease said he still follows all of his Florida QBs. Two who transferred -- Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy -- played against each other last week as starters for NC State and Boston College.

Neither could win the job at Florida, but both have found some success elsewhere. Driskel's career, meanwhile, has been plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Pease, now the wide receivers coach at Washington, said he still thinks about being at Florida right now had Driskel not broken his leg and missed most of the 2013 season.

"I just hope the kid plays with confidence and everyone keeps their confidence and competitive edge around him," said Pease. "He’s definitely got the ability, and there is a lot of talent on the team."

The difference is that at this point in Florida's season and with coach Will Muschamp's job very much on the line, patience is running thin.

The Gators benched Driskel after three turnovers and no points against Tennessee two weeks ago. True freshman Treon Harris quickly turned the game around in a come-from-behind win.

Driskel will start, but both quarterbacks will play on Saturday in Florida's homecoming game, a critical SEC East matchup against Missouri.

"We're both going to work for each other and we're both going to hope that other person does well when they're in," Driskel said Monday. "Obviously that's something that we think that can help the team. So if it's going to help the team, I'm all for it."

Roper remains solidly behind Driskel and has tried to temper the growing expectations that are being heaped upon the 19-year-old Harris.

"He doesn't understand what we're doing quite as well obviously because of his time that he's been here," Roper said of Harris on Tuesday. "The best way that I can say it is that he finds a way to make plays. Hopefully that continues."

Muschamp said there will be an ongoing evaluation during Saturday's game.

"We’re going to see who has the hot hand and see who’s helping move our football team and gives us the best opportunity to win," he said on Wednesday. "We’ll make that decision as we go through the game. Both guys deserve and have earned the opportunity to play."

Driskel says he's never shared snaps in a game before. He isn't sure how it’s all going to shake out, but he hasn't lost faith in himself, the offense or the team.

"Believe it or not, I'm not worried about me; I'm worried about the team," he said. "I want the team to play well. ...

"We’re confident in Treon. I think the guys are confident in me as well. It’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that."