Florida will face a daredevil in Knoxville, Tenn.
Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson called Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray just that due to his tendency to take risks down the field. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel isn’t one to take too many chances through the air, instead putting himself in harm’s way with his feet.
In two games, opponents sacked Driskel a Southeastern Conference-high nine times, while Bray completed eight passes of more than 20 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown to Zach Rogers in the season opener against N.C. State.
“He can throw the ball deep as good as anybody,” Driskel said of Bray. “They’re not scared to throw the ball a lot. I would, too, with those receivers they have and their playmaking ability. But he’s a good quarterback.”
The No. 18 Gators hold a seven-game winning streak against their SEC East Division rival and will try for No. 8 at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
The last five Florida starting quarterbacks before Driskel — John Brantley, Tim Tebow, Chris Leak, Ingle Martin and Rex Grossman — averaged 263.8 yards, two touchdowns and a 63.4 percent completion percentage in their first starts against Tennessee.
With the Volunteers ranked No. 24, Saturday’s matchup will mark the first time since 2007 both teams rank in the top 25 at the time of their meeting.
If Driskel can avoid absorbing too many shots from the Volunteers defense, the Gators will have a chance to extend their winning streak another year.
“We just don’t like to see our quarterback getting hit,” center Jonotthan Harrison said. “We’re just going to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Both teams won their first two games, but with different offensive game plans.
Tennessee outscored its opponents by 52 with a high-powered vertical attack. Florida toughed out two victories by an average margin of eight points per game.
Driskel, playing Tennessee on the road for the first time, realizes he doesn’t have to make every play with his feet.
His eagerness to extend plays got him in trouble at times against Texas A&M last week.
“Don’t be scared to throw the ball away and live another day,” Driskel said.
“I’ve got to learn from that, took too many sacks, and most of them were on me, so really learning to throw the ball away and get the ball out quicker.”
While Driskel admitted he held onto the ball too long, coach Will Muschamp saw it as another opportunity for Driskel to improve.
“When you take the progression read and you read to the ‘Z,’ to the ‘Y,’ to the however the progression is based on the play, sometimes you do get locked in and hold it a little long to see if some guy is going to come open as opposed to taking it to the next progression. That’s a very natural part of the process,” Muschamp said. “The game will slow down for him as we move forward.”
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease added: “More reps and being in that situation where the crowd is on you and the other team, the more he gets (of that), the better he’s going to get. That’s for anybody out there.”
Despite the sack issues in College Station, Texas, Harrison saw a young quarterback ready to handle a hostile environment.
Driskel shook off the hits and engineered a key fourth-quarter drive that included a 21-yard rush to run out the clock.
“The thing about him is he can keep the plays alive with his feet since he is mobile,” Harrison said. “As he gets more comfortable, maybe gets some of the jitters out, I feel like he’ll have a great season and produce.”
Contact Adam Pincus at [email protected].