Special to the Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It is now sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel’s turn.
Driskel got word Monday morning in a meeting with Gators coach Will Muschamp that he will make his first career start at quarterback on Saturday at Texas A&M. Driskel lined up at receiver on the first play of Saturday’s win over Bowling Green.
Driskel then took over for Jacoby Brissett after the first snap, and by the end of the game, Driskel appeared in the driver’s seat to be Florida’s starting quarterback at Texas A&M.
Muschamp confirmed speculation that Driskel won the job on Monday at his regularly scheduled press conference.
“I just feel like Jeff with the legs gives us some different variables in our offense than can help us as we move forward,’’ Muschamp said. “It will be Jeff’s game to play. I told Jeff, ‘I don’t want you looking over your shoulder but you need to play well.’ We certainly know Jacoby is capable of playing very well for us.”
The news brought a smile to Driskel’s face, a Florida fan growing up and who starred in football and baseball at Oviedo’s Hagerty High School. Ranked by multiple recruiting analysts as the top prep quarterback prospect in the country in the 2011 signing class, Driskel remained committed to the Gators after Urban Meyer stepped down. He enrolled at UF in January 2011 when Muschamp officially took over the program.
Driskel appeared in five games as a true freshman but dropped behind Brissett on the depth chart by midseason when fifth-year senior John Brantley suffered a serious ankle injury. Brissett started two games in Brantley’s place.
Driskel reflected on his up-and-down journey to being named the starter on Monday.
“It’s been a lifelong dream,’’ Driskel said. “I’m just excited to really be able to take command of the offense. [Coach Muschamp] just wants me to go out there and play and not worry about me looking over my shoulder. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
“He said the choice wasn’t based just on Saturday. He told me to play loose and play calm and have fun.”
In the Gators’ 27-14 win over Bowling Green on Saturday, Driskel finished 10-for-16 for 114 yards and one touchdown.
The Gators dialed down the offensive game due to Muschamp’s desire to establish a physical running game in the first game. The Gators did that behind senior running back Mike Gillislee, who finished with a career-high 148 yards on 24 carries.
Muschamp reiterated all spring and fall camp how closely contested the battle between Driskel and Brissett was. He said Monday that both players handled the decision well and that he urged them to continue to improve going forward.
He also wanted the team to move past the quarterback battle.
“Both of them handled it professionally,’’ Muschamp said. “They’ve handled this whole competition that way. I just felt like at this time, it’s good to move forward naming one guy and go with it. There is still going to be a growing curve here. It’s not all going to be perfect. I understand that. It’s part of the growing process at that position.
“Jacoby needs to understand he’s one snap away. Look in our league right now, look at us last year – we went through three quarterbacks. Jacoby needs to continue to do what he’s doing.”
Brissett was 3-for-5 for 31 yards in his limited action. The biggest play by either quarterback was when Driskel hit receiver Frankie Hammond on a short curl route and Hammond escaped a tackle to race 50 yards for a touchdown that put Florida up 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Hammond is confident the Gators can win with either Driskel or Brissett and doesn’t expect any rifts in the locker room over the decision.
“They’re both great quarterbacks,’’ Hammond said. “You have to pick one. [Jeff] brings a lot to the table. He is a versatile quarterback. When things break down in the pocket, he’s able to stretch plays and he can run the ball as well. That is definitely something defenses have to respect.
“We’re a close-knit group,’’ Hammond added. “I don’t think Driskel being the starter will break up the team or anything like that. I don’t think that’s anything that’s an issue.”
Neither does linebacker Jon Bostic.
“We’re going to support whichever way they decide to go,’’ Bostic said.
Driskel is expected to have more freedom Saturday at Texas A&M after Muschamp limited how deep first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease could dip into his playbook against Bowling Green.
Driskel was pleased with the way he performed.
“I felt like I did a good job of managing the offense,’’ he said.
He can also relate to Brissett’s situation after having gone through the same a season ago.
“Obviously it was tough,’’ he said. “I didn’t let it get to me too much. At first I was real upset and going through a little tough time. That [transferring] never crossed my mind. I wanted to be a Gator.”
Driskel is a Gator. He found out Monday morning he is now their starting quarterback.
How long will be determined by how well he plays. Muschamp said Driskel’s mobility and maturity played key roles in his decision, one that was not easy after months of competition between Driskel and Brissett.
“That position is difficult to play at any stage of your development,’’ Muschamp said. “It’s really difficult to play as a freshman quarterback in the SEC. I think both of those guys were put in very difficult situations last year. It’s great experience for them now.
“It was a very difficult decision. Both guys are very deserving. Both guys are really good football players. At the end of the day we needed to name a guy and move forward.”
Long-snapper Drew Ferris is out with a broken clavicle suffered Saturday against Bowling Green. Muschamp said redshirt freshman Kyle Crofoot will replace Ferris … Redshirt junior offensive lineman Matt Patchan (pectoral strain) is out for the Texas A&M game. Muschamp said he is “hoping for Tennessee’’ in regard to Patchan’s return. Patchan missed the season opener.