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Sharp as a passer, Jacoby Brissett ready for his big start against Jacksonville State

Since the two battled for the starting job in spring, Florida coach Will Muschamp has said the Gators can win with either Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.

When Brissett finally got his shot Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette, he wasted no time in proving his coach right, leading Florida to a 27-20 comeback win in the team’s homecoming game.

“You never know when your number is going to be called,” Muschamp said. “There’s no question … it’s a great example for us all. When your number is called, you better hurry up and perform and perform well.”

Driskel went down near the end of the third quarter with an ankle injury, thrusting Brissett into a game the Gators had struggled to control to that point. Two plays after Brissett entered the game on third down, Kyle Christy had his punt blocked and returned for a touchdown to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a surprising lead late in the game. Brissett didn’t blink, leading Florida on a scoring drive to tie the game at 20 with fewer than two minutes remaining in the game. He finished 6 of 8 for 64 yards and a touchdown, including a 39-yard gain to tight end Jordan Reed that set up the tying score.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease attributed that success to the mentality Brissett took after losing the starting job to Driskel following the season opener against Bowling Green.

“Jacoby’s handled it professionally. … He’s mature about the situation,” Pease said. “I’m sure he didn’t like it. I wouldn’t want him to like it. But he’s been admirable about what he’s done. And it shows, because to step in in a situation like that to have to make some plays as opposed to just taking reps to end the game, it shows he’s prepared every week.”

But now Brissett is in a much different situation. Because of his ankle injury, Driskel is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Jacksonville State and has been using crutches to get around this week. Driskel’s status for the final game of the regular season against rival Florida State is also uncertain.

Instead of playing second fiddle, Brissett now finds himself sitting in first chair.

“He’s got an opportunity to be in a full-game situation,” Pease said. “It’s going to be Jacoby in there, and everything’s going to be centered around him. … Jacoby has a great opportunity. … It’s his stage for this game. Step up and do what you’ve got to do. You’re number’s called, go carry the flag.”

Following Saturday’s game, Brissett said he had embraced the mantra “one snap away” that coaches and teammates constantly reinforced.

At the beginning of the season, Muschamp said Driskel’s ability as a running threat was the deciding factor in choosing the two. Ironically, it’s now Brissett’s throwing prowess that at least one teammate said could lead to a resurgence of Florida’s struggling offense.

“[Brissett] is a better thrower,” tight end Omarius Hines said. “It’ll open up plays for us, like set up the run game and at the same time set up the passing stuff, too.”

Running back Mike Gillislee has not rushed for more than 77 yards since Florida’s 14-6 win against LSU on Oct. 6 and, led for the majority by Driskel, the Gators’ passing offense ranks 118th nationally. In limited action, Brissett has shown a penchant for looking downfield more often, which should help keep safeties from loading the box and crowding passing lanes if he can have some early success.

That knack for looking deep was on display on one of Brissett’s only two incompletions Saturday, when he looked for a streaking Frankie Hammond on a go route down the left sideline. The play just missed. But it opened up the Louisiana-Lafayette defense, and on the next series Brissett found Reed for the 39-yard catch, one of the game’s biggest plays.

Asked if Hammond was the designed first read on the play, Brissett said: “I made him the first read.”

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