Bad news, Florida fans: Those of you who believed the ESPN hype of “Improved Passer Jeff Driskel” are in for a long season.
The Gators’ 21-16 loss at Miami on Saturday can’t be pinned entirely on Driskel. The junior quarterback certainly didn’t do anything to improve the national perception of him either, though.
Driskel threw two horrifyingly atrocious interceptions inside the red-zone on drives that would have likely at least resulted in field goals. He also lost a fumble – albeit on a blind-side hit that he couldn’t avoid – that set up the score that essentially clinched the game for the Hurricanes.
Turnovers were the story of the day for Florida, which lost two additional fumbles in Miami territory.
Those who didn’t watch the game won’t see the problem with Driskel’s stat line. Yes, he threw two INTs. He also connected on two-third of his passes (22-of-33) for 291 yards and a TD while rushing for another.
Florida wasn’t even bad on third-down conversions, going 6-for-15.
Count this as one of those games where the stat line doesn’t tell the full story.
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease repeatedly went to the drag-over-the-middle well. It worked well at first before Miami caught on and adjusted.
When it did, Driskel lost his third-down comfort. He finished the game 4-for-9 with 2 INTs and a fumble on third downs. One of those third-down completions wasn’t enough for a first down and another came in the final minutes when Miami dropped into a preposterous and ineffective prevent defense.
In other words, when Florida needed Driskel the most, he played his worst.
That flies directly in the face of what many college football experts spent time talking about during the summer. Many thought Driskel was ready to take the next step forward as a passer in Pease’s offense. He still could, but through two games he has shown no signs of taking the leap into the upper echelon of SEC passers.
Only so much of the Gators’ upset loss can go on Driskel, though. For all of the Gators’ success in the ground-and-pound system, their offensive line has struggled in pass protection since coach Will Muschamp took the helm. On numerous occasions Saturday, Driskel simply didn’t have enough time to make the throws he needed to make.
Credit Miami there for its part in pressuring Driskel, but file it away for later when the Gators take on teams like LSU, South Carolina and Georgia.
Florida couldn’t even get its ground game going – finishing with just 2.8 yards per carry.
Driskel also didn’t fumble away two other tremendous opportunities, including Trey Burton fumbling away an especially promising drive shortly before halftime.
Add all those offensive failings together and it’s easy to see why the Hurricanes scored an impressive victory.
In spite of the overwhelming offensive ineptitude, defense and special teams kept the Gators (1-1) in the game. Florida didn’t allow Miami QB Stephen Morris to get comfortable in the passing game and largely shut down RB Duke Johnson and the run game in the second half.
The Gators even turned in a huge special teams play when Loucheiz Purifoy blocked a punt to set up a Driskel TD run.
That’s the good news for Florida. It should be in every game as long as the offense doesn’t self-destruct.
Driskel took significant criticism over the offseason – including from here – for being a game manager. Here’s the thing about game managers, though: They don’t commit costly turnovers and they win games.
If Driskel plays the way he did Saturday, Florida has virtually no chance in repeating its double-digit win total.