Driskel shepherds Florida offense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel isn't adding his name to the list of Florida passing records.

In fact, he hasn't even thrown for 100 yards in more than a month.

But the sophomore quarterback is doing something else that's important to the Gators' surprising success this season: He's not making big mistakes.

Especially when he's facing better competition.

Driskel has turned the ball over just twice this season despite having the ball in his hands 193 times. In what everyone would term UF's "big" games -- Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and South Carolina -- Driskel has accounted for six passing TDs and has turned the ball over just once, a fumble against LSU.

"That's huge," Driskel said. "When you have a defense like we do, you don't have to force anything and you don't have to try to score on every play or anything like that. Last year we had a bad turnover margin and this year we have a really good turnover margin. We haven't fumbled the ball and we haven't thrown interceptions and we've created a lot of turnovers."

It's impressive because the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel has only made six starts. Young quarterbacks struggle with consistency and decision-making. They hold the ball too long. They force throws. They make bad reads and throw into coverage instead of finding the open receiver. They fail to recognize blitzes.

Driskel held onto the ball too long against Texas A&M and ended up getting sacked eight times, but he didn't force any throws. He's still battling that at times, but it's nowhere near the problem it was against the Aggies. That, by the way, was his first career start, and it came on the road in the first Southeastern Conference game in Texas A&M history.

Other than that, Driskel has rarely played like a young, inexperienced quarterback.

"That's something that he's grown with," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "You want to be aggressive [in the passing game], but you've got to develop a trust. I think he's gaining that. I'm trusting him. You want to call routes where guys can stretch the field and can make explosive plays for touchdowns. He did that the other day.

"He's growing with that and kind of developing that. He is getting better at it, but he's getting comfortable, too, and understanding those things."

In the Gators' four big games, Driskel has completed 72 percent of his passes (46-for-64) for 535 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked 16 times in those games and had just the one fumble, which happened because he was fighting to break free from LSU's Bennie Logan instead of going to the ground.

So far he hasn't had the implosion game that every young quarterback seems to have at least once in their first year as a starter. That's partly because Pease has tried to protect Driskel from getting into bad situations. Third-and-10 at the opponent 28? Pease is content to run the ball and let place-kicker Caleb Sturgis, who already holds the school record with seven field goals of 50 yards or longer, come in and get three points.

Same thing when the Gators are pinned deep in their own territory. Pease is content to run the ball and let Kyle Christy, the nation's leading punter (47.9 yards per punt), do his thing.

"You always guard against [putting Driskel in bad situations]," Pease said. "Sometimes you've got to be able to handle that on the sideline. That's where I become conservative a little bit until they get through that. Not just Jeff, but as an offensive unit. But, that's a credit to him that he has improved in it and he's shown consistency.

"He has done a good job with keeping us consistent, keeping us in good situations. We have a great kicker, so we always know we've got something to fall back on when we're in that range."

That's been something that Driskel had to learn. That certainly wasn't the way things were when he was in high school. Then it was: Jeff, go make a play.

"Any time you're in high school you're not as well-coached," Driskel said. "You don't really know as much. You're kind of just out there playing more than knowing the scheme or the defense. It's a lot different when you get to the college level. Turnovers are more important at the college level."

So is not making mistakes.