Gators stand up for Jeff Driskel after frustrating loss

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Florida’s 21-16 loss at Miami on Saturday won’t go down in the record books as Gators junior quarterback Jeff Driskel’s finest moment.

Based on comments on social media after the game, some free advice to Driskel: stay off Twitter for a few days.

Sure, Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards Saturday, but he threw two interceptions in the red zone and lost a fumble that led to a Miami touchdown.

And the Gators lost a game they had ample opportunities to win.

Still, while Driskel’s critics had a feeding frenzy in the wake of Florida’s loss to the Hurricanes, those critics were outside Florida’s locker room.

“If you point one finger, you’ve got three fingers pointing right back at you,” Florida linebacker Michael Taylor said. “So before you point a finger at somebody else, you’ve got to point a finger at yourself.

“We’re a team. We’re not an offense; we’re not a defense. Execution was very poor today. We didn’t make plays at the right time for us to come out with a victory.”

Driskel finished 22 of 33 on Saturday and connected with receiver Solomon Patton for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 2:08 left in the game, but earlier mistakes prevented any late heroics.

The two picks inside Miami’s 20-yard line served as the daggers.

“We moved the ball. We had more than 400 yards, mixed the run and pass well, did some good things at times,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “Bottom line, you can’t continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give another team an opportunity, especially on the road.”

In his second season as Florida’s starting quarterback, Gators fans entered the season with visions of Driskel throwing for 300 yards a game and showing no signs of a player who made only his 13th career start Saturday.

Driskel might have some 300-yard games in his future, but he showed Saturday that there is plenty of room for growth.

An effective game manager during his time as Florida’s starter — Driskel only threw five interceptions all last season — Driskel has yet to consistently show he can make big plays in the passing game consistently.

He did connect with Solomon Patton for a 46-yard pass Saturday but there were some big plays left on the field, too.

And those turnovers really hurt the Gators.

Driskel got happy feet on his first interception in the second quarter. Facing a third-and-goal on Miami’s 11, Driskel danced around in the pocket before throwing into the middle of the field in heavy coverage. Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins picked off the pass.

“When I saw the ball in the air and the guy cutting on it, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty,” Driskel said. “It was a dumb play. I should have taken what the defense game me. Instead, I tried to make a bigger play.”

What made the interception sting even more is that on the previous play Driskel had receiver Quinton Dunbar wide open in the end zone and sailed the pass over his head.

Driskel’s second interception proved costly, too.

On third-and-3 from Miami’s 17 with less than seven minutes left, the Gators trailed 14-9 but were in good position for a potential go-ahead touchdown.

Instead, Driskel rolled to his right and aimed a pass at Trey Burton. Instead of a Burton reception, Miami’s Tracy Howard picked off the pass.

Burton was frustrated with himself — not Driskel — after the game.

“I ran the wrong route,” he said. “That was not his fault. That play was my fault. I did not play a good game today.”

As Florida’s starting quarterback, Driskel is the one in the spotlight and when things go wrong like they did Saturday, he faces the most criticism fairly or unfairly.

The former two-sport start at Hagerty High in Oviedo has rarely tasted defeat or criticism — certainly not at the level buzzing on social media after the game.

Gators center Jon Harrison said Driskel doesn’t have to worry about that inside the locker room.

The Gators have his back. They need a confident Driskel heading into the SEC opener in two weeks.

“You can’t beat him down. You can’t attack him. You can’t criticize him about everything because it’s not all on him,” Harrison said. “There is no ‘I’ team. We can’t pass all the blame on Driskel.

“Yes, a win would have been great, but what can we do about it? We just couldn’t capitalize in the red zone. We have faith in him … the fact he can make plays with his arm and his feet, which makes our offense that much more versatile.”

Defensive back Jaylen Watkins voice a similar sentiment.

“We’ll pick him up,” Watkins said. “We’re big on ball security and turnover margin. Coach preaches that to us all day every day. Obviously we didn’t get the message today.”