Showdown vs. Alabama a Make-or-Break Game for Florida QB Jeff Driskel

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 18, 2014

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelJohn Raoux/Associated Press

The arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was supposed to be the cure for the downfield passing blues in Gainesville, but so far in 2014, the offense only looks like it has taken a half-dose.

Sure, the Gators offense is light years ahead of where it was last year from a statistical standpoint. After all, it is second in the SEC in total offense (593.5 YPG)—a stat that is partially skewed by the 72 yards it gained in the three overtimes against Kentucky.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel did, however, miss on quite a few shots deep despite hooking up with wide receiver Demarcus Robinson for 216 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Edgar Thompson @osgators

"I had some open guys, just have to give those guys a chance," Driskel on deep balls.

Driskel's head coach, Will Muschamp, agrees but noticed improvement as the game went on.

"You take a couple drops here and there in the game, a little off-kilter on the deep balls," Muschamp said in a press release emailed by Florida. "[Driskel] came back in the second half and really performed well."

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelJohn Raoux/Associated Press

There is a silver lining to Florida's passing game against Kentucky; Driskel developed a chemistry with a reliable receiver for the first time since Muschamp got the job in 2011, and despite being "off-kilter" on the deep balls, receivers were open.

Both are signs of progress for a Gators team that struggled in both departments for the better part of this decade. 

Saturday is a make-or-break game for Florida's offense.

Alabama was lit up to the tune of 365 yards by West Virginia's Clint Trickett in the opener due in large part to the connection Trickett had with Kevin White and apprehensive play from cornerbacks Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones.

Eddie Jackson slid in for Sylve in Week 2, and true freshman Tony Brown has been working with the first-team cornerbacks in practice this week in place of Jackson (quadriceps), according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

Alabama has only given up 147.5 yards per game through the air over the last two games, but was that a product of weak competition—as was the case last year—in Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, or has head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart fixed the glitch?

Alabama CB Cyrus Jones
Alabama CB Cyrus JonesBrynn Anderson/Associated Press/Associated Press

Driskel will certainly put it to the test because he now knows that not only does he have a receiver he can trust but a scheme that he can rely on against a secondary that, while talented, is still very questionable.

On the ground, Driskel hasn't been the threat he was supposed to be. This offense was supposed to feature his ability to run more, but he only has seven carries through two games as opposed to the 9.8 carries per game he had in 2012.

"We had a couple keeps that I felt like he could've kept on some plays in the zone read that he didn't, and a couple that we don't want him to keep," Muschamp said in the aforementioned email. "So a lot of that is by call in those situations, but we'll continue to work that as a week-by-week process as far as how many carries he's going to have."

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelJohn Raoux/Associated Press

All nine of Alabama's losses since 2008 have come against quarterbacks who can move. While not all had great games on the ground against the Tide, they did pose the threat, which puts stress on the defense.

If Driskel can pose that threat while staying in rhythm with his receivers—which is one of the "secrets" mentioned in this story from earlier this week—Florida has a great chance to spring the upset. It'd also signal that Driskel was written off way too early in his career and is finally in a scheme that fits his dual-threat capabilities.

If he struggles, then it'll "business as usual."

For Driskel and the Gators, that'd be a bad thing.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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