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Gators QB Driskel making progress after two starts

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:32 PM
GAINESVILLE -

Quarterback Jeff Driskel wasn't even sure he would play in Florida's season opener.

Three weeks later, he has locked down the starting job, been named the Southeastern Conference's offensive player of the week and drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow.

Driskel made significant strides while winning both starts - at Texas A&M and at Tennessee - and showed why the 14th-ranked Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC) picked him over Jacoby Brissett following the season opener.

He has completed 71 percent of his passes for 495 yards, with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Heading into Saturday's game against Kentucky (1-2), he also has 113 yards rushing, creating as many big plays with his feet as his right arm.

"He's grown up tremendously in the past couple weeks,'' offensive lineman Kyle Koehne said. "You could tell last week he was more comfortable sitting in the pocket and checking his reads and stuff. I just think every week he's going to keep getting better and better.''

His coaches agree.

"He's just starting to see the whole picture,'' offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "He's understanding what defenses are doing to him, how the moving parts are going to take place at the snap of the ball. (His) anticipation is much better. Before, he might have been waiting for things to happen, hoping for his receivers to get there. Now, he's seeing his receivers get open, knowing what zones they're getting into, seeing the man matchups before they actually happen.''

Coach Will Muschamp said he always felt like Driskel had the potential to be successful. But proving it on the field, especially on the road in the SEC, is easier said than done.

Driskel, though, has made progress in every game this season.

Coming off the bench in the opener, he completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He looked uncertain at times, but settled down late and found Frankie Hammond on a 50-yard, catch-and-run play that sealed the victory.

Muschamp named Driskel the starter two days later, and the following week against the Aggies, the sophomore completed 13 of 16 for 162 yards. It wasn't all pretty.

Driskel was sacked eight times in that one, and the coaches blamed him for six of them. He vowed to have a better pocket presence in Knoxville and did, completing 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and two scores last week. He also ran for 81 yards in the 37-20 victory, earning the league's offensive player of the week honor.

He had several key plays, none more memorable than the 23-yard TD pass to Jordan Reed near the end of the third quarter. Driskel had two defenders in his face, but still managed to hit Reed in stride while throwing off his back foot.

"The game has slowed down for him,'' Muschamp said. "He's able to anticipate things more. He's able to see things more. He understands a little bit more about coverage concepts.

"There's so many things in the learning process of being a young player, but even more so at that position because you've got to understand how the other 10 are working on that side of the ball and also have a great understanding of what's happening on defense.''

Driskel's scrambling ability was the main reason the Gators chose him over Brissett, figuring he would be able to keep plays alive if there were protection breakdowns.

Those same skills helped make him the top high school quarterback prospect in the country in 2011. Former coach Urban Meyer picked Driskel to be Tebow's long-term replacement in the spread-option offense.

Meyer left, but Driskel honored his commitment to Florida.

He lost the backup job to Brissett in the middle of last season, creating some speculation he might transfer. But Driskel stuck it out and eventually earned the starting job.

Comparisons to Tebow were inevitable, especially with success. But Driskel is smart enough to steer clear of those for now.

"I've definitely heard those comparisons,'' Driskel said. "Even back in high school, just because of our body size and the way we can run the ball. It's nice to be compared, but I wouldn't go that far and say I try to be like him or watch his film and try to be like him. But I guess we do play similar styles.''

 

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