More mature Driskel

It's already been a windy road for Gators QB Jeff Driskel to get to his first start

Updated: September 7, 2012, 11:57 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp was already upset when he went looking for Jeff Driskel on the sideline to tell him he had to replace starter John Brantley, who had just gone down with an ankle injury.

He felt even worse when he found the freshman quarterback.

"[I told him] to get his helmet, and he gave me that look," Muschamp said. "I said, 'I'm serious. You've got to get your helmet.'"

Moments later, Driskel trotted onto the field to face an Alabama defense that had six players who would go on to be drafted in April. It did not go well. Driskel looked awful, and UF managed just 46 yards of total offense in the second half. The Gators lost 38-10.

Muschamp, Driskel and UF's players are getting a different Driskel on Saturday when he gets his first start in the No. 23-ranked Gators' (1-0, 0-0 SEC) game at Texas A&M (0-0). He's more comfortable, poised and certainly calmer than the guy who got overwhelmed by the situation he was thrust into in just his fourth collegiate game.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/Phil SandlinJeff Driskel's first career start at Florida will also be Texas A&M's first game in the SEC.
"I'm going to be much more confident just by knowing what to expect for them to throw at us and knowing what we're going to give to them," Driskel said.

It would be hard not to be more confident than he was against the Crimson Tide. He tried to appear confident, but his teammates could tell he wasn't up for what he was being asked to do.

"He came in there confident, but he was a freshman, and you can tell that he still had those little jitters in him," said guard Jon Halapio, who was in the huddle.

Halapio and tight end Jordan Reed don't remember whether Driskel stuttered when he called out the play, or whether he said anything to lighten the mood.

"He was nervous because he was a freshman and how he wasn't ready for that situation," Reed said. "I don't really remember that much. I just know that he was a little nervous, like anyone else would be."

A lot has changed for Driskel since then. He hurt his ankle against Alabama, and, although he finished the game, he lost his job as Brantley's backup to fellow freshman Jacoby Brissett, who got to campus seven months after he did. Brissett started UF's next two games (LSU and Auburn), but Driskel played the second half of the Auburn game.

That was the last time he saw the field in 2011.

"They [the coaches] thought that he was doing a little bit better job than me," Driskel said. "Obviously, it was tough, but I didn't let it get to me too much.

"At first, I was real upset and going through a little tough time, but having the support of family and friends [helped, and I] just stayed working hard."

After a neck-and-neck competition throughout the spring and August practices and a solid performance against Bowling Green, Driskel has finally won the starting job. Both players picked up new offensive coordinator Brent Pease's offense and manage the team well, but Driskel's mobility was a big factor in the decision, Muschamp said.

Muschamp also said he has been impressed with the way Driskel handled the entire situation in 2011 -- enrolling in January, winning the backup job, getting thrust into action, getting injured and then getting benched -- as well as the competition with Brissett.

"I think that just maturity [has put Driskel in this position]," Muschamp said. "That position is difficult to play at any stage of your development, but it's really difficult to play as a freshman quarterback in the SEC. I think both of those guys were put in very difficult situations last year."

Driskel will be in another one Saturday. It's Texas A&M's season opener and the first game for the Aggies as a member of the SEC, so the atmosphere is going to be pretty hostile for the Gators. Nobody's worried about how Driskel will handle it, though.

"I think playing Alabama, for Jeff, broke that being shy, beat all the jitters [away]," Halapio said. "I think he got all that out of his system in the Alabama game. Coming into the huddle now, I feel like he's more prepared, more experienced and just a good player."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter