Driskel just scratching surface at UF


Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel speaks a Sunday news conference for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Matt Stamey/ Staff photographer
Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 7:53 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — If you looked at the raw passing numbers, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

You might wonder how anybody could say that he would be better than Tim Tebow as Mike Gillislee did on Sunday.

You might wonder why Louisville is so worried about him.

“I've seen quarterbacks like him,” said safety Calvin Pryor, “but not as big as him.”

Jeff Driskel's passing numbers don't blow anyone away.

There were 11 quarterbacks in the SEC who averaged more passing yards a game. Florida finished the season ranked two spots from the bottom in passing in the nation at 118th. Driskel's 1,471 passing yards? Meh.

And yet, Driskel is probably the best quarterback he's ever been right now and it's only going to get better.

It's not because he has let his hair grow out, eschewing the closely cropped cut for the Bama Bangs look. It's not because Florida's wide receivers are suddenly game-breakers. It's not because he's gotten a lot bigger, stronger or faster.

It's because he's had another month. Another month to learn. Another month of practicing. Another month with offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

“You take steps every week,” Pease said. “He's gotten better.”

It wasn't that long ago that we didn't know if Driskel would be the starter for Florida. He was in a battle for the job with Jacoby Brissett for the starting job in August. Once he won the job, he took Florida to an amazing season.

And Florida has only scratched the surface with Driskel.

“I'm excited about the future,” Driskel said. “But at the end of the day, we're 11-1 this season and our goal is to win games.”

Winning 11 games in a season is never easy, especially when you've built it around a sophomore quarterback with zero starts coming into the season. Florida took some of the burden off Driskel by relying on defense and the running game, but certainly he made a lot of big plays during the season.

On Wednesday, he'll shoot for a 12th win for this team on the field where Tebow played his last game and went out with one of his best performances.

“You could see a version of Tim Tebow in him,” Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “He's big. He's strong. He's fast. He's athletic. How many quarterbacks across the country can run a 4.5 flat?”

This one can. It's part of the package that is Jeff Driskel. The tools are there. Always have been.

“I've been blessed,” Driskel said. “Even when I was a little chubby kid I was still fast. So that was pretty cool.”

It's very cool for Florida's future that the Gators have a guy who should only get better as he learns. Florida rarely allowed Driskel to check out of bad plays this year. That's something they will work on in the offseason.

“That's going to be key for him,” Pease said.

Pease said Sunday that he's seen a steady improvement in his young quarterback as the season unfolded. We saw early in the season in College Station and Knoxville that this was a guy who was filled with confidence and not flustered. It seems like so long ago but remember that second game of the season when he outplayed the guy who would eventually win the Heisman Trophy?

To some people it looked as if there was a regression during the season. Florida struggled to score points against LSU and Georgia. But more than anything, he was playing against excellent defenses who had games of tape on Driskel and Pease's offense. We saw in Tallahassee the kind of performance we may be seeing more of next year.

“Any time you are in a system for more than a year,” Driskel said, “you're going to get better.”

Comparing him to Tebow is unfair because there is only one Tim Tebow. But it's also natural because of Driskel's running ability.

“It's going to be hard to tackle him in open space,” Bedford said. “We have a concern about containing Jeff.”

The college football landscape is littered with the lost dreams of quarterbacks who don't get better. Some of them get too full of themselves, some of them have a lower ceiling than anyone thought they did.

But when you talk to Driskel and feel the humble confidence that oozes from him, well, you just get a feeling that this is going to be a special career at Florida.

Florida may never take the reins completely off of him because of the Will Muschamp philosophy and a lack of great receivers on the roster. But in the end, he'll be measured the same way all quarterbacks are measured, not by his statistics but by the games he has won.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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