It's showtime for UF's Driskel
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
The consensus in and around the Florida football program is that quarterback Jeff Driskel's overall level of play will improve substantially in his second year as the starter in coordinator Brent Pease's offense.
But the Driskel doubters (and there still seem to be many out there) can throw out all kinds of numbers to poke holes in that theory.
Driskel threw for only 12 touchdowns and averaged just 136.6 passing yards a game last season.
He threw only 12 passes of 25 yards or longer.
He threw for less than 100 yards in four games.
He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked five times in the Gators' only loss (Georgia) in the regular season.
He was sacked an SEC-most 36 times, many of those for holding onto the ball too long.
So, can all those negative numbers (and trends) be reversed with a year of experience and one productive offseason?
Driskel seems convinced that they can. He's planning on converting the doubters into believers in 2013.
“I feel like I have (made a big leap in a year),” Driskel said. “I'm excited for the first game to really show it off.
“I feel like I've gotten a lot better, and I think we've gotten a lot better as a whole on offense.”
At this time a year ago, Driskel was still embroiled in a tight competition with Jacoby Brissett for the starting role, a battle he would eventually win in the opening game after the two shared playing time against Bowling Green.
But winning the job could not mask the fact Driskel had little playing experience at the collegiate level and that the 2012 season was going to be an on-the-job learning experience for the true sophomore.
Pease and UF coach Will Muschamp gave Driskel an opportunity to grow in the offense (and eventually become comfortable in it) by scaling back his responsibilities and placing the burden on UF's ground game and strong defense.
It was a winning formula that produced an 11-1 regular season and a BCS bowl berth.
To build on that success, the consensus is Driskel is going to have to be a much more complete quarterback this season. A better passer (especially downfield). A more prominent leader. More efficient reading defenses, getting into the right protections and managing the offense.
He's no longer just a caretaker under center, like he was a year ago.
“Year 2 in the system, Jeff Driskel, it's his football team now,” Muschamp said. “He's a guy that attacked the offseason the way you're supposed to as far as mental preparation and watching film. He understands what we're doing offensively much better than a year ago.
“You see the leadership taking over on our team. Jeff is a hard worker. He earns the respect of his teammates because of how he handles himself. He's a great leader. He's a great athlete. He's a guy that has tremendous arm talent.
“Jeff is extremely bright. He'll learn from those situations (looking at tape from last season). That's part of the growing process of a young quarterback.”
Driskel is a veteran quarterback now, and he seems to have earned the confidence and respect of his teammates, many of whom seemed torn between the two quarterbacks at times last season.
“I've seen a lot of maturity and growth in him,” senior offensive guard Jon Halapio said. “Everyone feels the same about Driskel. He's become a real team leader, the overall leader on offense.
“We need that from the quarterback. He's done a good job. He's going to have a great season.”
With a year of experience, and an offseason of studying the playbook and spending hours in the film room, Driskel said he's more comfortable leading now, more comfortable in the offense — and confident that he and the Gators are going to be appreciably more productive, especially in their downfield passing game.
“I just think I'm a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I know where to throw the ball and I know where to throw the ball in certain situations, and we're a lot better at timing. I'm getting the ball out before (the receivers) are breaking rather than waiting for them to break to throw the ball. That's a big difference in catching the ball and getting tackled or catching the ball and turning it upfield.”
Driskel said a big reason he's feeling so comfortable is the fact he's going into his second season with the same offensive coordinator (Pease) and playbook.
“That's huge,” he said. “If you're getting a new system, in the offseason you don't really know what to study because you can't be with your coaches in the summer and not too much in the spring. I kind of know how to study by myself now and that's something you can't really do if you don't know what's in front of you.
“And going back and looking at last year's film, you know we have a lot of the same plays, obviously we're going to have some new wrinkles. But like I said, we've done it before and as you do something more you're going to be more comfortable with it.”
Driskel said the priorities this season are to be more productive in the downfield passing game and reduce the number of sacks and negative plays.
“I need to be more accurate down the field,” Driskel said. “We did not hit enough big plays down the field last season. I need to hit some this year.
“We've got a ton of talent at the skill positions. Those guys have put in a lot of work. They've been hearing it more than anyone, that they're not good. They're tired of it.
“I'm tired of it as well. We've put in the work and we're ready to show it off once the season starts. I definitely think we can (step up). You don't really know until the season, but I think we're definitely capable of stepping up.”