What's Wrong with the Florida Gators' Offense and QB Jeff Driskel?
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Coming out of high school as Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year, Jeff Driskel was thought to be the next great Florida Gators' quarterback. Now, even after having a full year as an uncontested starter under his belt and an entire offseason with his teammates, Gators' fans were hoping for more consistency than they have seen so far in 2013.
After a long battle with the now departed Jacoby Brissett (transferred to North Carolina State), the 6'4, 240-pound Driskel took over the reigns of the Gators' offense for good in 2012. The Gators had a strong run game and a dominant defense. The offense was what kept the Gators from making a serious run at the national title.
The offensive line hasn't been as good as it was in the Tebow years, but it hasn't exactly been lackluster. For the most part, Driskel has had enough time to throw. When he hasn't had the time or he holds the ball for too long, that's when things start going downhill fast.
Let's take a look at some reasons why Driskel hasn't begun to approach the expectations that were prematurely placed on him coming out of high school.
An adjustment period is to be expected with any quarterback, especially in the SEC. Having endured numerous coaching changes and the position battle with Brissett, Driskel was given some slack but his first year as the incumbent should have served as his grace period. It's his team now and the Gators need him to show it.
If Florida wants to get back to being a national championship contender, Driskel needs to transform from a serviceable quarterback into a game changer. Florida is still very good and Driskel has his moments but if you want to be the man at Florida, you have to be better than good. You have to be great.
It's not as if Driskel has been flat out horrible, but there are clearly some situations that bring out the flaws in his game. Like most quarterbacks, the pressure of being deep in your own territory or getting into the opponent's red zone while trailing late in the game has gotten to Driskel. Unfortunately for the Gators it has happened at some inopportune times.
ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff breaks it down nicely in this piece on Driskel and the Gators offense, where he writes...
Driskel looked like a deer in headlights when the Gators got inside the red zone Saturday, but for the most part, he played pretty well inside the other 80 yards. He had command of the huddle, wasn't afraid to take a few shots down field (though he missed a few that were wide open) and is still owning the read-option. But his decision-making the closer Florida got to the end zone has to be concerning. And when the running game, which averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, shut down between the tackles, Driskel became too inconsistent with the ball.
Driskel Has Shown Minimal Progress Regarding His Awareness and Decision Making
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Going back to last year's Nokia Sugar Bowl, Driskel dug himself and his team a quick hole by telegraphing his passes, failing to read the defense properly and waiting too long to release the football. The results were immediate as demonstrated by this pick six by Louisville's Terrell Floyd on the game's opening play.
Driskel seemed way out of his comfort zone with the bright lights on him and it showed. He was not only intercepted on the game's first play, but he lost a 17-yard fumble from his own 21 on just the second play of the 2nd half. After Louisville turned the ball over in their own territory at the end of the 3rd quarter, Driskel threw his 2nd interception of the game. That one came in the end zone as the Gators were looking to get a quick score and get within striking distance.
Driskel Wasn't at His Best in the Sugar Bowl Against Louisville
Even before he sends his man in motion, you can see Driskel is eyeing his target. The Louisville defenders began to creep up and were able to create traffic, allowing them to be right there when the ball came out.
With the motion man running into the flat, the slot running a quick slant and the wideout running a deep post, Driskel did nothing to keep the Louisville defense guessing as he stayed locked onto his target all the way through his drop. He never even gave a thought to pulling the ball down and running with it. Instead, he tried to force the ball late, something he has made a bad habit out of.
Instead of a hit-and-throw when he had a clear passing lane, Driskel held onto the ball with a hitch, which allowed the defensive line to collapse the pocket and caused the slot receiver to have to cut his route short. After holding the ball, Driskel should have pulled the ball down and run up the gut for an easy 10-15 yard gain. Instead, he tried to force the ball and threw behind his receiver. His receiver did all he could by diving back for the ball but ended up deflecting it right into the hands of Louisville safety Terrell Floyd, who returned it to the house.
Driskel Was Solid in the Season Opener Against Toledo
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The Gators opened the season by disposing of Toledo in typical Florida fashion with a great defense and a strong rushing attack. Driskel wasn't bad. In fact he was solid, going a very efficient 17-of-22 for 153 yards and a touchdown against the Rockets. He showed composure and got the ball out much quicker than he had in the past.
Toledo is among the favorites in the MAC and put up a good fight in Gainesville, but they are no SEC program. Regardless of their stature as a program, Driskel stood tall in the pocket, maintained his poise and was timely and accurate in getting the ball out.
That was Toledo.
Driskel Reverted to His Old Habits in the Gators' Loss to the Hurricanes
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This was Miami.
A revitalized Miami team had Driskel flustered for much of the afternoon. Driskel was very good between the 20's, but two red zone interceptions and a late fumble deep in Gators territory sealed the deal for the Hurricanes.
Driskel was an impressive 22-of-33 for 291 yards and a touchdown, but old habits die hard and Driskel's three untimely turnovers blew any chance the Gators had to come out on top.
Never Take Points off the Board
Ok, the points weren't on the board quite yet.
After deciding to stay in the pocket instead of using his speed and athleticism to get outside and try to score, Driskel decided to step back into the oncoming pass rush and test his arm strength by trying to thread the needle. In doing so, the rocket-armed junior couldn't quite get set, so he threw off of his back foot into a crowd of Miami defenders near the goal line. As you can see around the twenty second mark in this YouTube video from the ACC Digital Network, it didn't end well.
In a one-score game, early in the 2nd quarter is not the time to commit one of the cardinal sins of a quarterback. Throwing late across the middle is always a bad idea. When your guy is outnumbered 6-to-1, it's even worse. Factor in that simply throwing the ball away will give your team's kicker a 28-yard field goal attempt and you will likely find yourself getting a call from your offensive coordinator up in the booth. That might even be kind, because some head coaches would bench an upperclassman for such an elementary error.
Driskel Was Under Heavy Pressure from an Inspired Miami Defense
Miami's defense looked liked an old-school Hurricanes' group in the win over Florida on Saturday.
At the 58-second mark of this video from the ACC Digital Network on YouTube, you will see Driskel throw late on a designed roll out. It is unclear if he is looking for the slot in the flat or for a tough back shoulder throw to his outside receiver. Regardless of who he was targeting, the only one to seem to know what to do on the play was Miami defensive back Tracy Howard. Howard jumped the outside route and snagged an interception that he took back 36 yards to fend off the Gators once more in the red zone.
Immediately after Howard's interception on the video comes Driskel's final and most costly turnover on the day. He has two receivers open underneath to whom he could dump the ball off to for a likely first down. Instead, he seems to be locked in on a deep route by his outside receiver at the top of the screen.
What he didn't see or even feel coming from his blind side was the speed rush of Miami linebacker Tyriq McCord. Instead of feeling the pressure and stepping up in the pocket, Driskel focused only on his deep receiver. The end result was a big hit and a fumble that Miami recovered at the 5-yard line, which led to what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
Can Driskel Take the Next Step and Lead the Gators Back to the Top?
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Everyone knows that Driskel has the physical gifts and the ability to become a star for the Gators before his career is up. His footwork, fundamentals, throwing motion and everything else on the physical side are above par for a college quarterback.
The mental aspect is another story. What Will Muschamp and the Gators must hope for is that it all clicks for him sooner rather than later because the Gators have too much talent to waste on losing games they should win as a result of easily remedied mental errors.
In his second year as a starter, it's time for Driskel to make progress with his awareness and feel in the pocket. He has physical abilities far beyond most of the other athletes on the field regardless of position. When the pocket breaks down he needs to learn to improvise and either dump the ball off, throw it away or make something out of nothing with his feet.
There is still plenty of time for the junior to develop into a truly special player but he will need to make some serious strides in a hurry. Eventually, the pressure from the big game failures will quickly become too overwhelming for him to succeed as a starting quarterback in the best conference in the country.