This is Absolutely Going to Hurt
By Paul Myerberg // Oct 7, 2011
This? This is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt Florida as a team. John Brantley’s going to be hurting, both in body and mind, as he recovers from last week’s sprained ankle. It hurts Will Muschamp’s hopes of notching his first meaningful SEC win. It hurts Charlie Weis, who had done a fairly nice job — a better job than his predecessor at offensive coordinator — showing Brantley the ropes of his pro-style offense. And most of all, this is going to hurt Jeff Driskel, who gets the privilege of making his first career in Baton Rouge, at Tiger Stadium, against the nation’s most impressive defense, and does so about nine months to the day that he left Oviedo Hagerty High School and first walked onto campus in Gainesville.
Driskel’s early graduation present was a watch, or a pen, or maybe, if he was lucky, a car to take to college. That drive to Gainesville, about two hours and change from Oviedo, signaled the end of Driskel’s days as Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year — the days when then-high school student could roll out of bed and throw for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in impressing the top programs in the region.
What have you done for me lately? High school accolades remain on your bedroom wall when you head to a Florida, or Alabama, L.S.U. and so on. You can’t take them with you: one, they mean nothing; and two, you’d look awful stupid putting your district title trophy alongside a teammate’s all-SEC placard.
Driskel’s salad days — those when he was the clear best player on the field — ended in January, when he joined the Florida program for spring drills. From the first day forward, he’s been playing an intimidating game of catch-up with a roster that moves in fast-forward while Driskel learns the ropes. It’s been one hurdle to climb after another.
Welcome to the club, rookie. The last true freshman quarterback to make an impact in the SEC? You start with Tim Tebow, of course — not to go down this path, but Tebow made an impact with the knowledge of about 10 plays; his physical gifts did the rest. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray? He took over in November, not October. It’s happened before, a true freshman taking the reins for a national-level team, but it’s rare.
Not to mention foolhardy, more often than not. Think of it like this: in Driskel’s case, taking a redshirt would have meant he’d had two sets of spring drills — 2011 and 2012 — two summers and one season’s worth of practices before first taking the field for the Gators. That’d be a perfect scenario for Driskel, not to mention the wide majority of freshmen quarterbacks in the country.
Florida’s quarterback situation is far from perfect. In a perfect world, the Gators would have had an incumbent quarterback capable of pushing Brantley for the starting role. If things were perfect, Brantley and that unnamed teammate would have been one-two on the depth chart, with Driskel serving as the scout team quarterback while learning the ropes wearing a redshirt.
Instead, the depth chart looks like this: Brantley, true freshman Driskel, true freshman Jacoby Brissett and redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy. Muddled, inexperienced, unproven and nearly unbelievable, given the ease with which the Gators pick and choose their recruits in their home state and beyond.
So Driskel, thanks in part to his January arrival, entered September as Brantley’s backup. Give Florida credit for attempting to give Driskel game snaps, knowing that — cross your fingers — there may come a time when the offense would need the true freshman to take meaningful snaps. In four games of action, Driskel completed 7 of 16 attempts for 73 yards and 2 interceptions. Against Alabama last Saturday, he was 2 of 6 for 14 yards.
Not a strong debut, but we should have expected nothing less. And the time for Driskel to take meaningful snaps comes tomorrow, when he leads the Gators into Baton Rouge to take on the nation’s least-forgiving defense. Or the second-least-forgiving defense in the land, if we give Alabama a slight edge over the Tigers.
Oviedo seems like a long, long time ago, even if it was only nine months — or about 270 days, or about 50 practices. If Driskel saw everything in fast-forward in January, thanks to Florida’s muddled quarterback situation, tomorrow’s game will be played at three-times speed: L.S.U. will move fast, the offense will move fast and each play will happen in a blink of an eye.
The only thing moving slow may be the game clock — tick, tock, tick, tock. And Driskel, should things get out of hand, may end up pleading with the clock, begging it to please, please move ahead just a little bit faster. Simply put, this is not a game for the raw or the inexperienced, and Driskel is a healthy portion of both. It may get very ugly. And it’s definitely, absolutely, positively going to hurt.
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Tags: Charlie Weis, Florida, Jeff Driskel, John Brantley, L.S.U., Will Muschamp
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