Jeff Driskel enrolled at Florida in January as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation, went through spring practice with the Gators and began his true freshman season as senior John Brantley’s backup.
A week ago, he was viewed as Florida’s quarterback of the future.
Today, he looks like the quarterback of now.
Fellow true freshman Jacoby Brissett and redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy have gotten looks this week, but it’s likely Driskel will make his first college start in place of the injured Brantley when No. 17 Florida visits No. 1 LSU at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Brantley left Saturday’s 38-10 loss to Alabama late in the second quarter after being sacked by Crimson Tide linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He won’t play against LSU because of a lower leg injury, reportedly a high ankle sprain.
“We’re hurting for him,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said of his senior quarterback, “but it’s time to pick up the other guys. That’s what our football team will do.”
Whoever takes snaps for Florida could surely use a helping hand.
LSU is 5-0 on the strength of a fast, aggressive defense that has registered 12 sacks and forced as many turnovers, and its home crowd has a reputation for making life difficult on opposing quarterbacks.
The good news for the Gators is that they’ve had a full week of practice to prepare Brantley’s inexperienced backups.
“Knowing that John is out, you can devise a game plan around less experienced guys,” Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. “You get used to doing the things that they feel comfortable doing.”
Driskel, who mopped up for Brantley in blowouts of Florida Atlantic and Alabama-Birmingham early in the season, looked out of his element coming in cold against Alabama and seeing his first significant action.
The freshman completed only two of six passes for 16 yards as Alabama, up 24-10 when Brantley went out, dominated the second half.
The one highlight came when Driskel scrambled for a 31-yard gain, showing off his quick feet en route to the longest rushing play against Alabama’s defense this season.
“When things are going bad, he always can get away with his legs,” Florida receiver Andre Dubose said. “That’s one thing he can bring to the offense that Johnny B. couldn’t.”
Brissett and Murphy offer similar skills, able to hurt opponents with their arm as well as their legs.
A touted recruit in his own right, Brissett signed with Florida after leading Dwyer High in West Palm Beach, Fla., to the Class 4A semifinals. Murphy, from Wethersfield, Conn., took a redshirt last year after entering Florida as a Rivals.com two-star.
“All of these guys will rep,” Muschamp said Monday when asked about the quarterbacks. “Who practices the best will be the guy who will play and give us the best opportunity to have success.”
Neither Brissett nor Murphy has ever taken a college snap.
At least Driskel, 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, has some experience.
The young passer completed four of six attempts for 42 yards, tossing an interception on his first college pass, in Florida’s 41-3 rout of FAU to open the season. He went 1-of-1 for 17 yards against UAB one week later.
“Jeff is a very mature young man. He’s a guy that went through spring with us. He’s an outstanding athlete and outstanding quarterback. He can run. He’s a guy that can give you some variety as far as escaping the pocket and evading the rush,” Muschamp said.
Driskel did a little of everything at Hagerty High in the Orlando area, passing for 1,819 yards and rushing for 1,333 more his senior year. He’d drawn comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow by the time he stepped on Florida’s campus.
If he gets his first start Saturday, Driskel can look back eight years for some inspiration.
Florida was off to a 3-3 start in 2003 when the Gators entered Tiger Stadium to face an LSU team that would go on to win its first BCS championship. Freshman quarterback Chris Leak was making his third career start.
With plenty of help from his defense, Leak helped Florida pull off a 19-7 upset.
“Everyone knows that part of the responsibility with Brantley out is that everyone on both sides of the ball, and on special teams, must pick up the slack,” Weis said. “It isn’t just the backup quarterback coming in alone that picks up the slack.”