UF has room to improve in downfield passing game


Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel looks to pass against LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

Florida sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel said he's aware a time may come when the Gators will need to win a game throwing the ball downfield.

“We're going to have to hit big plays down the field in the passing game,” Driskel said. “We haven't had to yet, fortunately, because we've ran the ball so well and been so efficient in the run game.

“But when you start hitting more runs, hitting more big plays, they'll start coming up. When they start coming up, there's more chances to hit it over their head.”

It probably won't happen Saturday against Vanderbilt. The Commodores have an undersized front seven and rank 11th in the Southeastern Conference in run defense, giving up 179 yards per game.

But as more teams load up the box to bring in extra defenders to stop the run, more opportunities should open up in the passing game.

“They are going to have to bring people down, and safeties down,” Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “So hopefully that opens up things over the top. We did some of that (against LSU) and missed a couple of throws, but that's always got to be something we have in the back of our minds.”

The Gators managed just 61 passing yards against LSU, just the fourth time since 1996 that the Gators have passed for less than 100 yards. Given the success Florida had running the football, it was understandable why the Gators passed on the passing game. Florida went with 25 straight running plays to close out the game, gaining 160 of its 176 yards rushing in the second half.

“Some things had to give and that was probably the thing that had to give after halftime,” Pease said. “I think we still could have done some things but, hey, our guys got into a groove up front.”

For the season, Florida has completed 10 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Seven of those 10 came against Kentucky and Tennessee. And two of the 10 were on catch-and-run touchdown passes of 50 and 75 yards to senior receiver Frankie Hammond Jr.

Driskel said the Gators need to develop better timing in the passing game, and placed the responsibility on himself.

“The drops have to match up to the route and I have to get rid of the ball on time, instead of moving up a little bit or patting the ball a couple extra times,” Driskel said. “There's just times I could have gotten rid of the ball on time and when I didn't the window closed up, he looked like he was covered. When that happens, you have to throw it away.”

Driskel said he works on timing with his receivers every day in practice.

“We have one-on-one routes, we have routes on air and we have team stuff,” Driskel said. “It's hard to simulate that in practice. We'll just have to keep getting better and better as the year goes on.”

Another issue is pass protection. Florida has given up 17 sacks this season, tied with Ole Miss and Auburn for the most in the SEC. The mobile Driskel has been able to make some throws rolling out of the pocket, but in other instances, he's held the ball too long.

Pease said he's trying to implement some plays to help Driskel release the ball quicker.

“When we used those, our protection was pretty good,” Pease said. “Case in point, when he hits Quinton (Dunbar) on the out (pattern) early in the game, maybe we should have done more of that.”

But to throw the ball downfield, Pease knows the protection needs to keep improving up front.

“You can always get better,” Pease said. “If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. It's things that we continue to work on, either within techniques or within fundamentals.”

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top