Jacoby Brissett must be feeling pretty strong déjà vu right about now. It was a little more than a year ago that he made his first college start due to an injury to John Brantley. Now he is poised to earn another start replacing an injured Jeff Driskel.
Driskel was injured in the third quarter last Saturday. Although we don't know the extent of his injury, he is not expected to play this week. That's fine against an FCS opponent like Jacksonville State, but how would the Gators fare against Florida State without their starting quarterback? Not well.
The battle for the starting job was tightly contested, but the right player won the job. Despite his deficiencies, Driskel has led the Gators to a 9-1 record. Sure, Florida has played lights-out on defense and special teams, but it is Driskel who has grown up in a hurry and played a huge role in Florida's success this season.
The only way Florida can go into Tallahassee and upset the Seminoles is if Driskel is under center and healthy, here's why.
The coaching staff said that Driskel's mobility played a major role in him winning the job, and we have seen why Florida needed that mobility at quarterback. Florida's offensive line was suspect while it was healthy, now that it is dealing with injuries it is having a hard time blocking anyone.
Florida is ranked No. 111 in the country in sacks allowed with 31. Some of those can be attributed to Driskel, as he has shown a tendency to hold onto the ball too long in the pocket. But the real responsibility falls on the line's shoulders.
Driskel has turned would-be sacks into positive gains all season and is a true threat to run at any time. If you take away Driskel's ability to run, FSU's defensive line will be free to blitz Florida all game long.
FSU has the No. 2 rush defense in the country and is the top-ranked team in total defense, giving up just 242.9 yards a game. Florida State is also third in the ACC with 31 sacks.
Florida can't rely solely on its passing attack to win games. If you take away Driskel's mobility, punter Kyle Christy will have his busiest day of the season.
Experience and Leadership
Coming into the season, Brissett was the Gators' most experienced quarterback. Brissett played in eight games last season while Driskel only saw action in five.
That changed when Driskel was named the starter before the Week 2 game against Texas A&M. Driskel is now the leader of the offense and has the experience of playing on the road in front of two hostile crowds and overcoming that adversity.
Florida fans should remember how Florida struggled after losing its leader on offense a year ago and know the impact it can have on a team.
Protecting the Football
Say what you want about Driskel being indecisive or inaccurate at times, he takes care of the football, with a 10-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Brissett, on the other hand, has shown a tendency to try to squeeze passes downfield and has four interceptions in 175 fewer passing attempts.
Florida has shown that it wants to be a physical running team that plays great defense and special teams. Driskel gets that. He doesn't try to make hero plays and manages the game well. That's all Florida has needed and it has been enough to win nine games.
Florida's defense held FSU to 95 total yards in a 21-7 loss a season ago. It was four turnovers, including a Brissett interception returned for a touchdown, that did in the Gators.
Florida needs to protect the football and run the ball effectively. Driskel is the best option to accomplish both of those goals.
Jimbo Fisher has built an SEC-like defense in Tallahassee. The Noles are big and fast up front and their secondary is filled with a bunch of ballhawks. FSU's defense is on par with LSU and Georgia, the toughest defenses the Gators have faced this season. With the game in Tallahassee, the FSU defense could present Florida with its toughest challenge yet.
You don't go into a game like this with a less than healthy quarterback or backup and expect to come away with a win. Florida needs Driskel at full speed in two weeks if it wants to come away with a win over its hated rival.