Special to the Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Just like both know it’s not the ideal situation, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett know it is the situation and nothing between now and Saturday is going to change it.
Only what they do in the season opener against Bowling Green can.
For now, the Florida Gators have two starting quarterbacks, with no promise from Coach Will Muschamp or offensive coordinator Brent Pease or the orange and blue gods in the sky that number will be cut in half this time next week.
“We’re going to have to make it work,” Driskel said Tuesday.
“You can’t fight it,” added Brissett. “That’s where you’ve got to strive and thrive to be the best. Competition brings out the best in everyone and that’s what’s happening now.”
Actually, it’s what’s been happening since John Brantley took his final UF snap in the win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.
In fact, Brantley’s troubled and injury-plagued senior season was dotted with cameos from both Driskel and Brissett, two wide-eyed true freshman forced into action in a difficult transition season. Neither distinguished himself, which set in motion a spirited competition in the spring that carried over into the preseason and, remarkably, remains deadlocked heading in Week 1 against the Falcons from the Mid-American Conference.
With regard to the Bowling Green game, all Muschamp has said publicly is that one quarterback will start and play the first quarter, then give way to the other for the second. Their play will be evaluated at intermission and thus make — regardless of the score — for some second-half suspense for the Florida Field crowd.
In other words, the pressure of being the No. 1 quarterback for the Gators will be doubled down with pressure to keep the job even though neither player has won it to begin with.
The coaches could have a tough call. May even be hoping for one.
“I think you just have to go with who’s moving the team,” Pease said. “The good thing about this is that they’re going to be in real game-time situations. We’ve tried to create [that] in practice and make it a situation where they can grow, and have a real experience — [but] now you’re really going to get to see that. When the lights come on, it’s going to be different for each guy. Hopefully, they’re prepared. They both accept the challenge.”
Doesn’t mean they have to like it.
And they shouldn’t. What competitor would?
“I don’t think anyone was really expecting [this],” said Driskel, the 6-foot-4, 232-pound sophomore who was the nation’s No. 1-ranked quarterback prospect when he signed out of Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty High and enrolled a semester early. “I think they wanted to choose a starter before the first game, but we both have performed so well that it is really difficult to do that.”
Driskel appeared in five games in ’11, actually winning the No. 2 job behind Brantley during preseason. Five games in, though, Driskel was thrust into duty when Brantley injured his ankle in a 38-10 home loss against third-ranked (and eventually national champion) Alabama.
Before that one was over, Driskel went down with an ankle injury too and appeared in only one game the rest of the season.
“I try not to let what happened last year influence me too much,” Driskel said. “I’m a lot more comfortable and a lot more prepared than last year, so I’m just excited to get out there, play and see what I can do.”
With Brantley and Driskel hobbling, Brissett got the rookie call. The 6-3, 229-pounder out of West Palm Beach Dwyer was lucky enough to get his first start at No. 1 LSU in front of the third-largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history.
“I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ I mean, I was overly pumped,” Brissett said. “I just wanted to make the best of my situation.”
The Gators were beaten soundly by a far more experienced and deeper team, 41-11.
The final 2011 quarterback numbers:
• Driskel: 16 of 34 (47.1 percent) for 148 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, plus 18 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
• Brissett: 18 of 39 (46.1 percent) for 206 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions, plus seven yards rushing on 13 tries for two scores.
Pretty even then.
Still even now.
“We’ll see how that first quarter goes,” Brissett said.
Both of their first quarters, that is.
“I thought they were going to name a starter, but I knew it was going to be difficult for them, and I wouldn’t want to be the guy to have to pick between us two,” Driskel said. “I mean, if that’s how they want to do it, that’s fine with both of us.”
Pease put it a better way.
“You can embrace it or you can hate it,” he said.
Given the uncertainty and stakes of Saturday, the choice is simple.
“It’s time to play. No more time for interviews and talk. Just go out and have fun,” Brissett said. “The battle will never end. Every day is a struggle and you got to go out and compete as hard as you can and to the best of your ability.”