GAINESVILLE -- In Florida’s first game, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was restrained, his leash pulled taught to prevent game-changing mistakes.
In Florida’s fourth game, Driskel was allowed to stretch his legs, throwing the ball 27 times with several shots deep down the field even though the Gators had the game in hand by halftime. That speaks to Driskel’s development at the position and the trust offensive coordinator Brent Pease now has in the young quarterback.
“Each week he’s done a better job,” Pease said. “You ask him this week he’ll go back and say: ‘I missed a few things. There were a few things I could have done better.’ That’s just part of the learning curve. Nobody’s perfect. He’s learning that, too.”
After attempting 16 passes against Bowling Green and Texas A&M, Driskel’s opportunities have increased each week. In four games, Driskel is 55-of-79 passing for 698 yards, with four touchdowns and just one interception. He’s completing nearly 70 percent of his attempts and his passer rating of 158.01 ranks 26th nationally.
Pease said Driskel’s biggest improvement is in his trust of pass protection and not escaping the pocket with his legs at the first sign of pressure. Against Kentucky, 10 receivers caught a pass from Driskel as he sat in the pocket more and went through his progressions, which is something he admitted was an issue after the first two games.
“Every game is really a building block in the development,” Driskel said after the Kentucky win. “The more experience, the more reps you get, the more you’re going to learn. I did some nice things [against Kentucky] but there’s definitely some things that I’m going to have to clean up.”
For a quarterback accustomed to making plays with his feet, Driskel’s progress impressed Pease. The coach said he doesn’t have a timeline for how long that process should take, but that it is unusual for a running quarterback to pick it up so quickly. Driskel is clearly ahead of the curve, thanks in part to coaches using tape of NFL quarterbacks to help him learn.
“Sometimes they get a little skittish in there and want to get out of there,” Pease said. “He’s starting to develop as a passer as well as knowing he’s got his strength is in his feet that he can do something with, too. Compliments to him.”
Driskel said it was instinctive, and that the game is starting to slow down around him as he gains more experience.
“I’m not watching the rush,” he said. “If you get caught watching the rush you’re never going to be able to find your receiver on time. If you look down at the rush and then look up at the receiver you’re going to be late and throwing into bad windows.”
Still, Driskel has plenty of room for improvement. He threw his first interception of the season against Kentucky on Saturday, and Pease said timing and decision-making are areas that still need more work. But for a sophomore, Driskel has taken great care to not turn the ball over, and Pease said a lack of aggressiveness has not been a byproduct of that.
“He’s been smart in understanding the defense of how he’s attacking them,” Pease said. “He has been aggressive. He’s fit balls in there and put them in good spots. He’s an accurate passer. That’s a great benefit of his.”
For all the success Driskel has achieved thus far, only one opponent (Texas A&M, 12th) is ranked in the top 70 in total defense. Florida’s next opponent — LSU on Oct. 6 — is ranked fourth. Pease said that matchup against the Tigers will be a chance to see how Driskel and his new Gators’ offense stacks up.
“Oh, absolutely,” Pease said. “I mean, they’re good. This is, I guess, a defining moment to see where we’re at.”