Florida is hoping Driskel can step up his game next season.
Florida's surprising run to a BCS bowl last season was mainly the result of excellent defensive play. The Gators' terrific secondary and strong linebacking corps helped them finish as the fifth-best defensive team in terms of points allowed.
Meanwhile, the offense had its fair share of struggles. Although the Gator ground game was strong all year, the team's passing attack was one of the worst in college football. Much of this can be attributed to the growing pains and learning process of quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Because Driskel was a first-year starter, offensive coordinator Brent Pease kept the game plan highly conservative throughout the season. As a result, Driskel only threw for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.
If the Gators want to challenge for another BCS berth, however, his numbers need to improve. This means that Pease will have to open up the playbook and put the game in Driskel's hands. Even though much of Driskel's effectiveness will depend on his own development, there are a few ways in which Pease can remove some of the pressure and help him during the upcoming season.
Here are six of the steps Pease can take to assist Driskel.
Matt Jones will be called upon to fill the void in the backfield.
The Gators' biggest strength last year was their rushing attack. With the return of Matt Jones and the addition of 5-star recruit Kelvin Taylor, that should be the case again this season. Therefore, it would only make sense for Pease to play to the team's strength and call a heavy dose of running plays.
Utilizing the running game will allow the Gators to sustain long drives and manage the clock. This proved to be a very effective strategy last season against LSU. Mike Gillislee's hard running slowly wore down the Tiger defense to the point where he could not be stopped in the second half.
In addition, establishing a successful ground attack will open things up for Driskel when he does throw the ball. As long as the play-calling does not become a predictable pattern, opposing defenses will need to respect the Gator backfield at all times. This means that at least one receiver should be able to break off a defender and get open downfield on pass plays. All Driskel would need to do is see his man and hit him with a good throw.
If the Gators can find the right balance on offense, Driskel will be under less pressure to make big throws. More importantly, they should be able to move the football and find the end zone.
Solomon Patton's speed would make him a threat on screen passes.
One thing the Gators have in excess is speed. Andre Debose and Solomon Patton can be extremely quick on the outside. Furthermore, new recruits Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood, and Alvin Bailey are speedsters in the making. Therefore, Pease should call more screen passes for Driskel and let those guys do the dirty work.
One of Driskel's biggest problems last season was the fact that he held on to the football way too long on too many occasions. Screen passes would eliminate that problem. All Driskel would have to do is let the blockers get set and then fire away. If the play is immediately recognized by the defense, Driskel also has the athleticism to improvise and look for another option.
The Gators have a plethora of options that can be used in screen situations. Trey Burton would be a great fit with his speed and all-around ability. Even athletic tight end Kent Taylor would be effective due to his size and agility. Add in the potential threats in the backfield and it's clear the Gators have limitless options.
Screen passes would be an easy way to make big gains without forcing Driskel to make potentially dangerous throws down the sideline. I think we should see more of them once the season rolls around.
Trey Burton is very effective in the Wildcat formation.
I know the Wildcat formation fits more with Florida's previous spread offense. However, it is still an effective wrinkle that can trip up defenses if properly executed. The Gators used it effectively last season, and they should continue to do so next season.
Trey Burton is a perfect fit for the Wildcat. He has good speed and acceleration, which can allow him to break to the outside. If that option is not available, he has the toughness to run straight ahead and pick up the needed yardage. Further still, he can completely trick everyone and throw the ball with effectiveness.
In an ideal scenario, Pease could find another player for the Wildcat and add yet another option to the playbook. Whether that happens or not, the team will benefit from using Burton in that role. It will allow the Gators to be successful in short yardage situations without risking a sack or an injury to Driskel. Furthermore, it could open things up for an explosive deep pass during the following sequence of plays.
Driskel took a beating last season after experiencing 36 sacks.
This fourth step is more pertinent to spring practice and summer camp than the 2013 season itself. No matter, it is essential that Pease works with Driskel to improve his presence in the pocket.
Driskel was on the receiving end of 36 sacks last season. If he is subjected to a similar number this season, he will not make it the entire way. The threat of injury is already high for Driskel based on his running ability, and all those hits will eventually add up to an ailment of some sort. This will either limit his effectiveness or take him out of games completely.
In addition, the offense will simply have a better flow if Driskel is not being hit in the backfield. There is a huge difference between needing to pick up three yards or facing a third-and-long where the only option is to throw the ball. It will put less pressure on Driskel to make a tight throw and allow Pease to be more creative with the offense.
Therefore, Pease needs to work with Driskel in the coming months and help him improve in two key areas. First, he needs to improve Driskel's ability to sense defenders. Second, he needs to help him find a way to effectively go through his reads while in the pocket.
If Driskel can take care of these two issues by the beginning of the season, he will be ready to break out offensively.
Will Quinton Dunbar be the one to pull away as the leading receiver?
Common sense would dictate that it is very hard for a quarterback to play at his best when he has no reliable wide receiver to catch his passes. Driskel fought that very problem last season, as his most dependable receiver was actually tight end Jordan Reed. With Reed now gone, however, Pease needs to find another weapon that Driskel can count on every week.
Last year's numbers would indicate that Quinton Dunbar is ready for a breakout season. He led the Gators with four touchdowns and was second on the team in receiving yards. More importantly, he played his best football at the end of last season, including a 77-yard performance in the Sugar Bowl. This indicates that he and Driskel were on the same page more so than any other receiver, especially among those returning to the team.
There is also a good possibility that one of the talented recruits in Florida's 2013 class can develop into a consistent playmaker. Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Alvin Bailey were all highly touted out of high school, and each of them is skilled enough to become a great receiver.
No matter who it is, however, someone needs to step up and assertively lead the receiving corps. It is up to Pease to identify the one most likely to do so and act accordingly. If he can find a target for Driskel, the offense should improve dramatically.
With the full trust of his coaches, Driskel should brim with confidence.
Ultimately, a quarterback needs to have undying confidence in his own arm in order to play at the highest possible level. In order for a quarterback to trust himself, he needs to have the trust of the coach making the play calls. It is for that very reason that Pease can help Driskel simply by trusting him to make big plays throughout an entire game.
Pease's game plans last season were quite predictable. He would start each game with a heavy dose of Mike Gillislee and the rushing attack, and he would primarily rely on Driskel only to convert third downs. Only when the Gators fell behind would he open up the playbook and give Driskel free reign to throw the ball or run downfield if the need arose.
If Pease allows Driskel to take shots downfield early in games, the junior quarterback will have the chance to get in a rhythm right from the opening kickoff. Once Driskel finds his rhythm, his confidence should grow to the point where he can make any type of throw.
This is now Driskel's offense. Unlike last summer, there is no competition to take the starting job away from him. Therefore, Pease needs to let go of the safety brake at the beginning of games and let Driskel go to work. If he does this, Driskel will be a more effective quarterback during crunch time.