Driskel tries to break UF's slide at quarterback
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:25 p.m.
For most of the 1990s and 2000s, Florida enjoyed a golden age of quarterback play.
Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow won Heisman Trophies at the position. Chris Leak led the Gators to the 2006 BCS title. Rex Grossman passed for more than 9,000 yards and 77 TDs, becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. And Doug Johnson wound up with 62 TDs in three seasons as a starter before playing in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals.
Yet since 2010, Florida quarterbacks have failed to live up to their four- and five-star recruiting billings. For former UF starting quarterback John Brantley, injuries and changing offensive systems played a role in his struggles. For current UF starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, the results have been mixed.
Time will tell if Driskel, a junior and second-year starter, will realize his full potential. In his first season as a starter, Driskel proved he could make plays with his legs, but ranked 11th in the SEC in passing yardage (1,646 yards) and tied for 10th in passing TDs (12).
Last week, Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards against Miami, but also accounted for three of UF's five turnovers, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble on a strip sack. In two games this season, Driskel has more turnovers (4) than touchdowns (3).
Scout.com rated Driskel the top overall quarterback of the 2011 class, based on his size (6-foot-4), speed (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and arm strength. But even then, Scout raised red flags about Driskel's ball handling and decision making, problems that were on full display against the Hurricanes.
“He needs to work on protecting the ball by not forcing it into traffic when a play breaks down as well as tucking it away when he's scrambling,” Scout.com's Scott Kennedy wrote. “There isn't a lot he can't do on the field. He just needs to learn to play within himself.”
In the 2011 Scout quarterback rankings, Driskel was rated ahead of Ohio State's Braxton Miller (2), Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (6) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (22nd).
“With Driskel, the risk always was the level of competition he played against in high school,” said Rivals.com national football recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. “At (Oviedo) Hagerty, he didn't see the level of athletes week in, week out that some of the other quarterbacks did. We saw him at the Under Armour (All-America) game and he was able to make all the throws. He busted off a long run. He was certainly impressive.”
Farrell also thinks that Driskel's development has been curtailed by lack of skill position players around him.
“Tim Tebow was a great quarterback, but let's face it, he had some weapons,” Farrell said. “He had Percy Harvin, he had Aaron Hernandez. I don't think the talent at the skill positions at Florida right now are at that level. With the development of any quarterback, it's a matter of feeling comfortable in that system and having the talent around you.”
Brantley was Rivals.com's third-rated pro-style quarterback coming out of high school in 2007, ahead of Arizona's Nick Foles (30) and Boise State's Kellen Moore (31). In his junior year, Brantley rotated with Trey Burton and Jordan Reed in a spread offense and never developed a consistent rhythm in the passing game. In his senior season, behind a poor offensive line, Brantley was knocked out of the Alabama game with a knee injury after being sacked and knocked out of the Florida State game with a concussion after being sacked. As a starter, Brantley passed for 20 TDs and 17 interceptions.
“Brantley was highly regarded, but I always viewed him as more of a game manager than a difference maker,” Farrell said. “A good comparison is (Alabama's) AJ McCarron.”
What has made the stretch tougher for Florida fans to stomach is the number of in-state quarterback prospects who have enjoyed success at other schools. Bridgewater, out of Miami Northwestern, led Louisville to a 33-23 win over the Gators in the Sugar Bowl and is projected as the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Geno Smith, out of Miramar High, passed for more than 11,000 yards and 98 TDs in his college career at West Virginia. Aaron Murray, out of Plant High in Tampa, is a Heisman candidate at Georgia who holds the school record for career TD passes with 99.
Murray and Bridgewater were offered scholarships at Florida. Smith was not. Tampa Plant High coach Robert Weiner said that the interest between Murray and Florida was mutual.
“He actually was a Florida fan, wore Florida shirts when he was in high school,” Weiner said. “Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen recruited him. But I always tell our guys when you go on a visit you're going to have a gut feel about a school. I think Aaron felt that went he went to Georgia. Football was a big part of it, but I also think he fell in love with Athens, the campus, the downtown area. He liked the small-town feel of it.”
Instead of wondering what could have been, Florida is hopeful that Driskel can continue to grow and develop. He took accountability for his mistakes last week against Miami. Teammate Loucheiz Purifoy said that Driskel was “quiet on the sidelines” following his interceptions and expected his starting quarterback to be more vocal. But Driskel said he felt it was important to stay calm on the sidelines.
“You're going to have to be critical on yourself,” Driskel said. “You are going to have to go back watch the film, learn from it, make the corrections and move on because we do have a lot of games to be played this year.”