GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jeff Driskel’s reign as the starting quarterback at Florida seemed all but over Saturday afternoon after he was benched late in the third quarter of Florida’s game at Tennessee.
The fourth-year junior had gone just 11-23 passing for 59 yards with three interceptions, and the Gators hadn’t scored a single point with him taking snaps.
Coach Will Muschamp turned to true freshman Treon Harris, who sparked the Gators to a 10-9 come-from-behind win, and Driskel’s tenure as the starter appeared over.
“I don’t know what the plan is from here,” Driskel said after the game. “But I know Coach Muschamp is going to put the guy out there who is going to have the best chance for this team.”
For about 44 hours, it seemed a sure bet that was Harris, a four-star freshman from Miami.
Then Monday, news broke that Harris was under investigation for an alleged sexual assault that occurred on campus in the early morning hours Sunday. The Gators quickly suspended him, once again leaving the team in the hands of Driskel.
In three SEC games this season, Driskel is 45-94 passing for 447 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. On the season he’s 3-28 on passes thrown more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, and Florida’s passing game ranks just 85th nationally.
His play has been a nightmare. For Florida to win moving forward, restoring confidence in his ability to lead the team is key.
Muschamp has been quick to defend Driskel, pointing out that the execution across the board offensively hasn’t been good. The receivers have 15 drops through four games, the running backs have missed blocks in pass protection and receivers and backs alike have run the wrong routes at times.
The fourth-year coach pulled up about 15 plays on film in a team meeting to show examples of poor execution around Driskel. He also showed them some of the quarterback’s past highlights.
“I think we’ve taken a lot of the positive things we’ve done within his career here at the University of Florida, which there’s been a lot,” Muschamp said. “(He has) played in some big games. Played in a big game against LSU here two years ago and won and made some plays in that game that helped us. Those are all things that we’ve tried to accentuate at this time.”
But can Florida really win with Driskel directing things?
It doesn’t have many other options, with only two very unproven quarterbacks left. Redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Will Grier will battle for the backup job this week. Mornhinweg went 0-3 as a starter in Florida’s last three games in 2013, while Grier just returned to practice this week after missing three weeks with back spasms.
Neither are attractive options against an SEC opponent in a key conference matchup.
With an immense amount of criticism directed his way in the last few weeks, Driskel just has to find a way to pick himself up and play better. Florida won’t survive another SEC game if he doesn’t.
“That’s just what comes with it,” Driskel said. “I’m not going to let it shake me. I’m not going to let it get to me. That’s just part of it.”