Driskel blossoming on the job

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Jeff Driskel is only two weeks into his job as Florida's starting quarterback, but there shouldn't be any remaining doubts that he was the right choice.

Not after what he's done in back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee. He played as well as anyone -- even his head coach -- could have hoped and has proven that he's more than just a game manager. He's someone who can carry the Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC) when needed.

Which is pretty significant considering Florida's challenging October schedule.

"Driskel is definitely improving," buck linebacker Lerentee McCray said after Florida's 37-20 victory over Tennessee in front of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. "He made some plays, and I was like, 'Wow. I didn't know he could do that.' He definitely impressed me."

Driskel went 14-for-20 for a career-high 219 yards and two touchdowns against the Vols. But it was more than his passing numbers that impressed everyone. It was the way he handled himself on the road in an environment that was even more hostile than what he experienced at Texas A&M. He didn't turn the ball over and didn't take a sack one week after getting sacked eight times.

In fact, Driskel was heading for the sideline on a scramble but whipped a pass to Solomon Patton at the last second for a 17-yard gain. The week before, he ran out of bounds several times in similar situations.

That's a sign the 6-foot-4, 237-pound sophomore is maturing at a pretty quick pace.

"He made some gutsy plays and runs, and he's a tough kid, and he was very accurate with the football," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "I think the game will continue to slow down (for him). He played extremely well. He got us in and out of the right runs and the right situations and the right protections."

Driskel still hasn't thrown more than 20 passes in any game, and he has gotten a pair of long catch-and-run touchdowns from receiver Frankie Hammond, but he has built up confidence with his teammates and coaches, because he's not making the kind of killer mistakes most young quarterbacks make.

He's not turning the ball over. He's not forcing passes into double or triple coverage. He's not panicking when blitzed. And he doesn't get rattled when he's getting pounded in the pocket, either. He still holds onto the ball a little too long, but even that's improving after just three weeks.

"I still have a long way to go," said Driskel, who is 37-of-52 for 495 yards and two touchdowns in UF's three games. "I definitely got better from Game 1 to Game 2 and now Game 3.

"I knew our routes a little bit better, and I knew their defense a little bit better. That just makes you more comfortable back there, and when you're more comfortable the game really slows down a little bit. I thought I got better again this week."

But the key will be him continuing to improve into October. The Gators have home games against No. 3 LSU and No. 8 South Carolina, a road game at Vanderbilt, and play No. 7 Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. Vanderbilt has the SEC's top pass defense. LSU is third, and the Tigers have the league's top defense overall.

UF can't afford a repeat of last October, when an injury to John Brantley forced the Gators to start Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in two games. The Gators went 0-4, which ruined a 4-0 start.

But there's a different feeling about Driskel now, Muschamp said.

"I expect him to respond the right way," Muschamp said. "I expect him to respond with physical and mental toughness, because that's the type of young man he is. There's nothing he does that makes me wonder, 'I didn't realize he could do that.'

"He's a good player, and he's made some big plays for us, and he'll continue to do so."

UF's October depends on it.