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Colleges

Gators' Driskel has defenses on the run

Florida Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:33 PM
GAINESVILLE -

Florida's ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense, averaging 233.3 yards per game, but last in the league in passing at 145 yards per game.

Guess what opponents want to take advantage of?

Guess what Florida knows it has to work on?

It's somewhat fitting the Gators, No. 2 in the BCS rankings behind Alabama, play South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) and coach Steve Spurrier on Saturday in a showdown that could decide the SEC East. Spurrier was known for his creative passing game during 12 seasons as Florida's coach.

While UF (6-0, 5-0) has done just enough to remain unbeaten this season and second-year coach Will Muschamp is thrilled with the "downhill'' running attack, quarterback Jeff Driskel realizes a key moment in his career has arrived.

His running is compared to ex-Gator Heisman winner Tim Tebow, especially after breaking the former UF star's school rushing record for quarterbacks with 177 yards in Saturday's 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. Then again, Driskel's passing ability has been compared to Tebow, as well.

The first is a compliment.

The second, not so much.

"They have been saying it all along,'' Driskel said of the comparisons to Tebow's college days. "It's just something you have to live with. It's an honor to be compared to someone like that.''

Critics wonder just how successful Driskel will be in big moments that require him to throw the football.

That means Driskel must prove he can make big passes in clutch situations. And such situations likely will arise during Saturday's game against the No. 9 Gamecocks and their aggressive defense.

"We do have to get better in that aspect,'' Driskel said.

Driskel, a sophomore, has completed 74 of 111 passes with just one interception. But he has just four touchdowns and his average of 139.3 passing yards ranks 11th among league quarterbacks. There was a stretch earlier this season where Driskel completed four consecutive passes for a total of three yards.

By comparison, nine SEC quarterbacks averaged at least 188 yards passing.

Time to air it out a little bit? Muschamp and Gators' offensive coordinator Brent Pease insist Driskel has the tools to make big throws when needed, that his passing skills are a work in progress.

"I didn't realize we were last in the SEC in passing,'' Driskel said. "But we're first in the East (standings). That's all that matters.''

Not necessarily.

The Gators are certain to face obvious passing downs against South Carolina. The Gamecocks had a tough time slowing LSU's running attack, allowing 258 yards in Saturday's 23-21 loss in Baton Rouge, La., but still rank fourth in the SEC in rushing defense in allowing 108.7 yards per game.

Part of Driskel's issue is timing his drop to the pace receivers make breaks in their routes, he said. In other words, he is working to become a better pocket passer.

Muschamp noted Monday that UF had three drops on third down, another issue.

"They have a great defensive line and some corners that can press you,'' Driskel said of South Carolina. "It's going to come down to winning the one-on-one matchups on the outside.''

It could also come down to his strong right arm making the right throws at the right time.

"It's got to continue to improve, you can always improve,'' Pease said. "You don't want to stay the same; you always want to get better. It's things that we continue to work on within techniques or fundamentals.''

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