Starting fresh at quarterback
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 11:27 p.m.
If Wayne Peace could talk to Jeff Driskel this week, he would offer the true freshman Florida quarterback some pretty simple advice.
“Just relax as much as possible,” Peace said. “Don't feel like you have to win it on your own. Just manage the game and play within yourself. And don't put it on your shoulders that it's your game to win or lose.”
Peace is speaking from experience.
Like Driskel will be doing at LSU on Saturday, Peace was a true freshman Florida quarterback who was thrust into the proverbial fire when the Gators' starting quarterback was injured early in the 1980 season. His first collegiate start came on the road in the SEC, at Ole Miss.
Peace, however, is quick to point out there is one major difference between his experience and what Driskel is facing in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
“We were in a different situation,” Peace said. “We were a physically better team than Ole Miss. But LSU... wow.”
Wow is right.
The Tigers are the No. 1 team in the nation and boast one of college football's fastest and most disruptive defenses, one that surely will be throwing lots of wicked stuff Driskel's way in an attempt to rattle the true freshman.
Despite that considerable difference, Peace said he suspects offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is taking the same approach with Driskel that offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan took with Peace before that 1980 game at Ole Miss.
“I'm sure the coaches are trying to keep him as calm and relaxed as possible,” Peace said. “They tried to play it as low-key as possible with me. They said, ‘This is why we recruited you to come to Florida. You can handle this.'
“They were very positive and I got a lot of support from the coaches and my teammates. Absolutely. I'm sure Jeff's coaches and teammates are surrounding him right now and saying, ‘We believe in you.' ”
Peace's early (and unexpected) opportunity to become Florida's starting quarterback came when Bob Hewko injured his knee in a 24-7 loss to LSU. Senior walk-on Larry Ochab replaced Hewko in the second half against the Tigers. Peace took a few snaps at the end of the game.
During the bye week that followed, the UF coaches decided to go with one of the freshmen quarterbacks over Ochab in the upcoming game against Ole Miss.
Peace and Roger Sibbald competed for the job during the bye week. Early in game week, Peace was named the starter.
During preparation for the game, Peace said Shanahan scaled back the offense to take the pressure off him.
Nerves were a factor, though, he said.
Peace said the strongest memory he has leading up to the game was the 45-minute bus ride from the team hotel to the stadium in Oxford.
“When I'm nervous, I sleep,” Peace said. “I got on the bus and fell right to sleep. When we got to the stadium, (nose tackle) Robin Fisher woke me up. I remember thinking, ‘What do these guys think, Peace is asleep.'
“Nerves are part of it. Everybody deals with it in their own way. Jeff is a confident guy. He just needs to relax as much as possible.”
Peace said Shanahan kept him out of pressure situations. The Gators controlled the ball on the ground with running backs James Jones and Doug Kellom and won the game 15-3 on five Brian Clark field goals.
Peace said he threw only 10 passes, completing four, two to former quarterback Cris Collinsworth.
“We physically dominated the game,” Peace said.
Driskel is facing an entirely different challenge Saturday. The Gators are almost a two-touchdown underdog.
Peace, however, thinks Driskel will hold up just fine.
“I saw him play against Lakeland High in the playoffs last fall,” Peace said. “That kid is an amazing talent. It's just going to take a little time, and then he's really going to get after it. He's going to be an unbelievable player.”
Peace's story isn't the only example Driskel can follow this week.
In 1984, a redshirt freshman walk-on named Kerwin Bell was thrown into the fire against defending national champion Miami when starting quarterback Dale Dorminey injured his knee only a few days before the season opener.
Bell threw a touchdown pass to Frankie Neal to give the Gators the lead late in the fourth quarter, but Bernie Kosar rallied the Hurricanes for a 32-20 victory.
“I wasn't nervous all week because I had such a good team around me,” said Bell, who is now the head coach at Jacksonville University. “But when I trotted onto the field I was pretty nervous. Each play you forget more about the fans and the situation and you settle in.
“To come back with that drive in the fourth quarter really helped me grow as a quarterback. We converted two fourth downs and then to score the touchdown was a tremendous feeling.”
In 2003, true freshman quarterback Chris Leak led the Gators to a 19-7 victory over No. 6 LSU in Baton Rouge in only his third collegiate start. The Tigers ended up winning the national title that year.
Peace, Bell and Leak all went on to distinguish themselves in their UF careers and now are considered among the great quarterbacks in school history.
On Saturday, Driskel's career is set to launch in Baton Rouge.
“Charlie Weis will tailor things to what Jeff can do,” Peace said. “He just needs to make his reads, get rid of the ball on time and not try to do too much. He needs to rely on the support of his teammates and realize it's not his game to win or lose.
“I think he'll do fine. I'm looking forward to watching him play.”
Bell has some advice for UF coach Will Muschamp.
“I would tell him not to room (Driskel) with someone who will scare him half to death,” Bell said. “Coach (Charley) Pell wanted to room me with a veteran on the road. He put me with (tailback) Neal Anderson, and he made me nervous. He was talking about how big the crowd was going to be and how big the game was. He really had me going.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.