Dooley: Driskel on proving ground
Published: Monday, July 14, 2014 at 5:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 14, 2014 at 8:49 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — The worker behind the counter was looking down to make sure the brisket was cut properly and that he didn’t slice off the end of a valuable finger. Always cut it thin, he was saying Monday, and separate the fat from the lean.
The order made him look up.
“I’ll have a brisket sandwich with a side of national championship sauce,” said the customer at 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Gainesville.
The worker behind the counter looked up and laughed. He delivered the sandwich. There’s nothing Jeff Driskel would like more than to deliver a national title to Florida.
Driskel has had an interesting summer, working at the barbecue restaurant because he “needed some cash” and still working at Ironwood Golf Course to finish an internship that will complete a degree in sports management. He will walk across the commencement stage on Aug. 10 and enter the master’s management program at Florida.
And through the hot summer months, he has heard the noise. The Gator Nation has put much more emphasis on Driskel’s bad plays than his good ones. He is Florida’s best chance to turn it around, but there are a lot of people who are convinced he can’t, that he takes too much time in the pocket, that he doesn’t see the field.
So this might come as a surprise to the doubters — there might not be a more confident quarterback in college football than Jeff Driskel.
“I’m ready to light up the scoreboard for a change,” he said Monday at SEC Media Days. “I don’t let fans get to me. I don’t want to play well because fans are down on me. I want to play well because that’s what I was recruited to Florida to do, to be a great quarterback.
“I plan to show everyone that’s what I am.”
Driskel’s career at Florida has been staggered by injuries and diminished by misconception. Three bad plays against Miami last year seemed like 30. When Florida went 11-2 two years ago, the starting quarterback received little of the credit.
Want to pick a fight? Walk into a bar or a meeting of Gator fans and take one side or the other on Driskel.
Remember when Tyler Murphy guided Florida to those wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas (combined SEC record in 2013 — 2-22)? It was like Driskel’s broken leg was being applauded.
Meanwhile, he was immobilized in his Gainesville apartment wondering if he’d ever play again.
“The hardest part was not being able to help my team,” he said. “Sitting on the couch, watching away games, immobilized. You kind of feel bad. You feel like you’re letting people down.
‘You really have to have a back-up plan in life. I have baseball, but if I have a career-ending injury, I’ll be fine.”
He’s working with his third offensive coordinator in four years, but Driskel knows what coach Will Muschamp knows and what we all should know — this is the offense he was recruited for. Not the pro-style offense of Charlie Weis when he was shoved into his fifth game as a true freshman with little preparation. Not the Brent Pease conservative offense that Muschamp ordered up in 2012.
Last year’s offense was molded around Driskel’s skills, but we really didn’t get to see much of it before he was injured. He threw only 61 passes. completing 69 percent of them. But because he threw two interceptions at Miami and because his last throw was a pick-six, the confidence level for Florida fans is not exactly bubbling over the top of their half-filled cups.
“It’s not fair to judge him on two games last year,” Muschamp said. “But it’s part of it and Jeff understands that. Be careful what you ask for because if you’re the head coach or quarterback at Florida you have to put up with it.”
If there was anything that came out of Florida’s appearance Monday in Hoover it was these two men — the coach and the quarterback who have been almost joined at the hip for the last three years — have no doubt that this is going to be an excellent football team.
They are almost brothers in arms as they get ready for this season.
“Jeff and I have been through a lot together,” Muschamp said.
If it unfolds the way they think it will, Driskel will have a decision to make. Does he leave with a degree and NFL aspirations after four years or come back for a fifth season and finish his master’s degree and his Florida career?
But that’s not what this season is about. It’s not about getting Gator fans off his back. It’s not about shutting up anybody who has doubted his abilities. It is about staying healthy, sure, and he has to be smart on the read-options and scrambles.
If he does, Jeff Driskel is on the verge of showing everyone the quarterback he can be. We already know what he can do with a carving knife.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.