Florida Gators hope to boost lackluster passing game against Lafayette


Florida’s passing game has been anemic for most of the season, but Louisiana-Lafayette poses a chance for the Gators to reverse that trend.

Special to The Miami Herald

Early in last week’s game against Missouri, quarterback Jeff Driskel rolled out of the pocket to his right to escape the pass rush and instead of taking a sack or trying to force a throw into coverage, he tossed the ball harmlessly out of bounds.

It was a simple play, and Florida ended up punting on the drive. But it was meaningful. A week after Driskel took five sacks and turned the ball over four times in a loss to Georgia, the throwaway showed progress. It showed growth as a quarterback. And the crowd did not let the good decision go unnoticed — a rousing round of applause bellowed out from the fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium following the play.

“I thought that was kind of funny,” Driskel said.

But the problem for Driskel and the Gators is that their passing offense has looked comical at times this season. Only six FBS teams have accounted for fewer passing yards than Florida (140.1 per game), and only two other teams (LSU, 190.6; Northwestern, 162.3) ranked in the BCS standings have thrown for fewer than 200 on average.

It has been a point of emphasis for several weeks, but with No. 7 Florida (8-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) facing Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3, 3-2 Sun Belt) and its 118th-ranked passing defense Saturday, the feeling is that this is the week the Gators finally get the ball moving through the air.

“Every week it’s important to get confidence, but obviously that’s a stat that you look at and say, ‘Well, they’ve given up some stuff,’ ’’ offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “We should get it going … those stats are saying that you can.”

Florida has yet to pass for more than 219 yards in a game this season and has been held to fewer than 106 in four of its past five games, including three in a row in October with fewer than 100. While the team’s record has not struggled as a result, improvement in that area is still desired. Coach Will Muschamp tersely answered a question about a lack of playmakers earlier this week, obviously frustrated with a situation that has proved difficult to remedy with the current personnel.

“It is what it is,” he said. “We’re where we are. We’re 8-1, all right? … We’re not scoring 60 points a game, so obviously we’re all upset. I want to score 60, too, but I want to win first of all.”

Still, he acknowledges the adverse situation the lack of a downfield threat in the passing game has created for his team, saying: “People are loading the box. We’ve got to create some opportunities for us down the field.”

Saturday’s game could provide some relief. The Ragin’ Cajuns have allowed more than 250 yards through the air five times this season, including games of 412 yards against Oklahoma State and 528 against Troy. Opponents are completing 60.7 percent for a 7.7-yard average per attempt. Those numbers bode well for Driskel, especially in terms of getting into a rhythm from the get-go and eradicating any thoughts of an upset.

Louisiana has shown to be susceptible to the pass in the opening 15 minutes, with opponents putting up a higher completion percentage in the first quarter than any other. Florida has been outgained in terms of total offense in the first quarter of every game this season, and Pease went with an up-tempo, hurry-up offense last week against Missouri to try to change things up.

“We do have to start better, and we have to play better through the whole game,” Driskel said. “I mean, it’s not just at the start of the game. The offense has to be more productive and work on it. … [The hurry-up] is something that we’ve worked on a lot. We feel really comfortable with it. But you’ve got to get going before you kind of get into that.

“It’s hard to go into that without kind of getting into a groove.”

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