Game slows down as Driskel gets comfortable
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The play that put Florida in front for good in Saturday’s 37-20 win at Tennessee was a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to tight end Jordan Reed.
On 2nd-and-8 and the game tied at 20 late in the third quarter, Driskel dropped back to pass. His first read on the play was designed for Reed. As Driskel took the snap and prepared to throw, Quinton Dunbar passed behind him in motion to the right. Meanwhile, Reed ran down the field and curled left into the corner of the end zone.
However, before Driskel could get fully set in the pocket, Tennessee linebackers Curt Maggitt and Dontavis Sapp converged on him quickly. Driskel knew what that meant. Reed was one-on-one against Tennessee cornerback Prentiss Waggner.
Instead of taking off with the ball or trying to force a pass into coverage, Driskel planted on his back foot and threw a perfect spiral across the field. Reed ran under the well-placed pass for the go-ahead score on perhaps the best throw of Driskel’s young college career.
"I knew the route and I knew where he was," Driskel said. "I just threw it out there and gave him a chance to make a play and he did.”
That kind of play recognition takes time for a young quarterback like Driskel, who will make his third career start on Saturday – and first home start – after back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
As Driskel gains a better grasp of offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s playbook and shows the ability to execute those plays on the field, the Gators expect there to be more light-bulb-on moments like his toss to Reed. Or Driskel’s fourth-quarter touchdown throw to Frankie Hammond that sealed the victory.
On Hammond’s 75-yard touchdown, Driskel dropped back and immediately faced pressure to his right from blitzing Tennessee cornerback Eric Gordon. Hammond broke toward the middle of the field, leaving cornerback Marsalis Teague behind him. Driskel drilled a short pass to Hammond, who did the rest with his legs, outrunning Vols safety Brian Randolph to the end zone.
"The film really helped out a lot there," Driskel said of recognizing the blitz. "[The game] has really slowed down a lot just with getting more reps in-game and knowing what fronts they are going to be in and knowing what their defensive front is and seeing the rotation of their safeties.”
With Tennessee focused on stopping the run in the first half, Pease told the offense at halftime that he was going to air it out more in the second half. Driskel responded by going 6-for-8 for 129 yards and two touchdowns as Florida blew the game open with several big plays.
The Gators also mixed in various plays from a spread offense similar to the one Pease used at Boise State. That created space for Florida’s playmakers when Driskel got them the ball. The Gators’ confidence in Driskel – and his own confidence – was evident as the game progressed.
Pease was impressed with Driskel’s recognition on Reed’s touchdown, Hammond’s score and even on incomplete passes when, instead of taking a sack or throwing into coverage, Driskel simply threw the ball away.
"I just think in general, defensively, he's understanding the whole scheme of what's happening to him on the other side – what they're trying to force his hand on," Pease said. "The other night he saw a lot of pressure. We knew they were going to blitz, he saw the pressure coming beforehand. We wanted to get Frankie on him and he knew right where to go with the ball right away, because the guy that's going to hit him wasn't the line's guy, it was his guy.
"So, he got the ball off before he got to him."
Driskel also made plays with his legs, one reason he won the job over fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett. Driskel rushed for 81 yards on eight carries, including a 28-yard run in the first half.
Driskel’s running ability offers the Gators more options and defensive coordinators more headaches.
"A one-back set is a two-back set now, a two-back set is a three-back set, so you create a lot of issues for a defense when a guy has legs at the quarterback position," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "You’ve also got to simplify things in the passing game because, from the standpoint of a defensive coordinator, you’ve got to make sure that all areas are covered. Mostly you’re going to get a lot of middle-field coverage.”
In three games Driskel has completed 71.2 percent of his passes (37 of 52) for 495 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Based on early returns, Muschamp made the right decision by naming Driskel the starter. He is impressed with the way Driskel has performed and hopes that with more experience come more games like Saturday’s win at Tennessee.
"When you’re able to start seeing those things, and the game continues to slow down, I think he’ll continue to play well," Muschamp said. "The thing about Jeff is he’s going to continue to work at it. He’s a humble guy, he’s going to come in and understand the things he did well and why they worked and the things we need to improve on as a football team.”