The Florida Gators roared back onto the national scene in college football last season with an 11-2 season complete with Sugar Bowl appearance. The problem is that Sugar Bowl appearance turned into a nightmare that ended in a 33-23 (not as close as it appears) loss to the Louisville Cardinals. The fact that the Cardinals were massive underdogs and spanked the Gators made it even worse.
At the heart of the Gators’ offense entering the 2013 season will be quarterback Jeff Driskel, a man who needs to do more this season if the Gators are to do even more than they did last season.
Let me make this clear from the beginning: this is not a bashing of Driskel’s abilities or performance last season. Far from it, Driskel actually had a good season in 2012. It’s just that he can do more and should be expected to do more with the loss of running back Mike Gillislee.
Even though the Gators have made up for Gillislee’s exit with the signing of Kelvin Taylor, the top-ranked high school running back in the country, he’ll only be an incoming freshman for this season. This means that instant success may not happen. If it does, great, but if it doesn’t, the offense will need something to fall back on. This is where the leadership of the man leading the team’s quarterback needs to be present.
To be honest, I didn’t see that last year out of Driskel. Maybe it was because he was only a sophomore and was still learning the ropes so to speak. This season he likely won’t have quite as good a running back backing him up and thus will have to do a lot of the offense’s work through the air.
A problem with that might be the fact that Driskel appears to still need work in this area. While his completion percentage ended at around 64% for last season, that number seems to be helped out by Driskel’s two most accurate passing performances: against the Texas A&M Aggies in the second game of the season, and against the UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Look even closer and you’ll find that Driskel didn’t even throw for 100 yards against the Ragin’ Cajuns and only completed more than 15 passes twice last season: against the Kentucky Wildcats and in the Sugar Bowl. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his four-touchdown performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The downside even with Driskel’s game against the Gamecocks is that the Gators won that game with forced turnovers more than Driskel’s touchdown passes.
The only game last season where Driskel seemed to show the leadership qualities that he will need to have in all of this upcoming season was the Gators’ upset of the LSU Tigers. Here was a pressure-filled game against a top-five opponent, and a game that could show the Gators returning to prominence. Driskel played well both when he was throwing the ball and when he was conducting the offense. It wasn’t the most crisp performance or the most stat-filled one you’ll ever see, but it showed how this guy could become the true leader of this team.
Currently, the leader of the Florida Gators is Will Muschamp‘s facial expressions. I can’t imagine a player who wants to look that man in the eyes when he’s mad at them. That not only puts the fear of God into you, but it motivates you not to screw up again so you won’t have to face his wrath.
Driskel does need to become that leader, if for no other reason than that a football team’s on-the-field leader actually has to be someone who’s playing on the field. You could make the case that Gillislee became such a leader during last season for the Gators. But he’s gone and now it’s Driskel’s time to step up and truly lead this team. He’s capable of it, so it’s all a matter of making the transformation from just a player on offense to offensive leader.