- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jeff Driskel can't keep his secret any longer.
Not with 40,350 witnesses.
Florida's sophomore quarterback had hoped to be able to keep his speed quiet, but it's hard to do that when you're 237 pounds and you're running away from defensive backs.
That's what he did on his 70-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run that clinched the fourth-ranked Gators' 31-17 victory against host Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Driskel kept the ball on the zone read, went around right end, and sprinted down the sideline past a safety and a cornerback.
"I tell you," Florida linebacker Jon Bostic said, "the boy can run."
And now everybody knows it. Driskel ran for 177 yards -- the most in school history by a quarterback -- and three touchdowns on only 11 carries to help the Gators (6-0, 5-0 SEC) beat the Commodores (2-4, 1-3) for the 22nd consecutive time. In addition to the 70-yard touchdown run, he also scored on a 37-yard run. His other touchdown was a 13-yarder.
It was a huge performance -- and a better one than even Tim Tebow managed on the ground (his best was 166 yards against Ole Miss in 2007) -- and one the Gators desperately needed. By the end of the first half, Florida was down three starters on the offensive line because of injuries and also had lost tight end Jordan Reed, UF's leading receiver, for a significant portion of the game to injury.
Running back Mike Gillislee was healthy, though, but Vanderbilt's defense keyed in on him and held the SEC's leader in rushing yards per game (109.6 yards per game) to 67 yards on 17 carries. So it was up to Driskel to carry the Gators' offense.
And boy, did he.
Driskel accounted for 254 yards of total offense (77 passing) and more than half of the Gators' 326 yards rushing.
"Jeff had an outstanding night running the football," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "His legs create a lot of things for our offense."
Especially when the Gators used the zone read. All three of Driskel's TD runs came on the zone read, where Driskel reads the defense and has to decide whether to give the ball to Gillislee up the middle or keep it himself. In all three instances, he pulled the ball out of Gillislee's stomach as Vandy's defense converged on the running back and had plenty of room to run.
He was never touched on any of his TD runs.
"They were keying in on Gillislee all night, which they should," Driskel said. "When two or three guys go for him, it opens up lanes. We kept running the same play and they didn't really make adjustments so we kept going to it.
"Holes were opening up because they were keying in on Gillislee and we were getting great perimeter blocking. I kind of just walked in on some of them."
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin admits the defense got too focused on Gillislee and got caught sleeping on Driskel.
"He's explosive, athletic and fast," Franklin said. "If you give him an opportunity to make big plays, he will."
None of them were bigger than the 70-yard run, which will certainly be viewed over and over again this week by South Carolina's defense in preparation for the Gamecocks' game at Florida Field next Saturday. Not because of the design of the play -- it's the same zone read play that most teams run now -- but because Driskel ran away from defensive backs.
"Everybody knows Jeff can run, so him doing that [rushing for 177 yards] tonight doesn't surprise anybody," guard Ian Silberman said. "I think that long run where he didn't get touched surprised more people that he didn't get caught.
"I honestly didn't think he was going to pull that off. I thought he was going to get caught around the 40 or 50, but he pulled it off and kept running."
Vandy's defensive backs probably didn't think he would, either.
"I don't know if they do or don't [underestimate his speed]," said Driskel, who said he ran a 4.5 the last time he was timed in the 40. "But it seems like sometimes they don't take as good of angles on me, but hopefully they keep doing the same thing. DBs definitely don't expect for me to run by them, so kind of keep that a little secret."
There will be no overlooking the wheels of Jeff Driskel now that he's topped Tim Tebow's career best for quarterback rushing yards in a game.