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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Room for improvement

By Michael DiRocco
GatorNation

NEW ORLEANS -- There are nearly as many questions about Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel at the end of his first season as a starter as there were back in August.

The 6-foot-4, 237-pound sophomore did some good things to help lead the Gators to an 11-2 record. But a disappointing performance in the Gators' 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night highlighted just how much Driskel needs to improve if UF is going to be in contention for anything beyond an SEC Eastern Division title in 2013.

Averaging less than 150 yards per game passing and throwing for 13 touchdowns isn't going to be enough.

"Our main goal on offense is to win games and we've done that consistently all year," Driskel said. "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 that's what we're doing."

Jeff Driskel
As he has all season, Florida QB Jeff Driskel held onto the ball too long and took too many sacks against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
Until the Sugar Bowl. Driskel threw two interceptions -- the first was returned for a touchdown and the second came in the end zone -- and completed 16 of 29 passes for 175 yards. UF was terrible on third down (3-of-10) but so was Driskel: He completed just 2 of 8 passes for 16 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also was sacked on another drop back. He misfired on his first six third-down passes (five incompletions and an interception).

Not all of that is on Driskel. The pass protection was again inconsistent, especially off the perimeter, and there were several plays in which the backs either failed to pick up a free rusher or got beat. Plus, TE Jordan Reed aggravated a left knee injury that he said had been bothering him since the middle of the season and didn't play much in the second half.

The Gators' limitations at receiver have been well-documented -- although Quinton Dunbar did catch a season-high five passes for a season-high 77 yards -- and that didn't help, either.

But Driskel still holds onto the ball too long at times, stares down receivers, and doesn't seem to go through progressions very quickly. Those are issues he's had all season, but the fact that he wasn't any better after 15 additional bowl practices in which he didn't have to split reps 50-50 with Jacoby Brissett is concerning.

The first pass he threw was behind Andre Debose and was intercepted after Debose tipped it. Driskel's other interception was for the same reason. He threw behind Dunbar and the ball bounced off his hands, too.

Driskel said he's expecting the offense -- and himself -- to make a significant leap in 2013 because it will be the second year in coordinator Brent Pease's system. The defense did so in its second year in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's system.

"We've had a whole year with the offense. We know it now," Driskel said. "We don't have to be coached because in the offseason you can't spend much time with the coaches and you can't sit down with them. A lot of that's going to be on us and we're going to have to get better mentally and physically.

"Any time you're in a system for longer than a year you're going to be able to do some stuff on your own and get better and know when to get out of things and know when to take your shots."

Driskel should have more help next season. The offensive line adds transfers Max Garcia, Tyler Moore and juco Trenton Brown, while D.J. Humphries gained valuable experience as a freshman this season and appears ready to step into the starting job at left tackle. Garcia and Moore have started games at left tackle at Maryland and Nebraska, respectively. Brown is a 6-8, 350-pound behemoth.

The running game should be fine. RB Matt Jones appears ready to take over as the starter, and the Gators have commitments from a pair of talented backs: Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor, who is scheduled to enroll next week.

But there's still an issue at receiver. The Gators could lose Reed early to the NFL draft -- he said after the game he's 50-50 and would decide soon. UF would struggle to replace his team-high 45 catches. The four other tight ends on UF's roster have a combined four career catches.

Dunbar and Debose are the only returning receivers with double-digit career catches, and Debose spends most of his time in Muschamp's doghouse. The Gators do have commitments from four receivers, but it's unrealistic to expect them to be significant contributors.

"It's not all about Jeff [improving in the offseason]," Pease said. "It's all about everybody in the offense. It's about the O-line. It's also about the receivers and getting people around that he's consistent with and can continue to stretch the field for the throwing game.

"We've got to get better people around him."

But Driskel has to get better, too, Pease said. It won't make much of a difference if the receivers and offensive line is better if Driskel is still holding onto the ball too long or failing to go through his progressions.

"That's going to be key for him," Pease said. "He starts to study himself, starts to study a lot of things that we're going to do, and go back and try to improve."