On the surface, Jeff Driskel seems like the obvious choice to start in place of John Brantley.
He came to UF as Rivals.com’s No. 1 quarterback, and has had a stranglehold on the backup role since the second week of fall camp. He is the only Gators quarterback other than Brantley to attempt a pass this year and seems to be UF’s future at the position.
But Saturday is a little too soon, and that’s why the Gators need to start Tyler Murphy.
It has got nothing to do with Murphy’s ability. Driskel is by far the better player and a superior athlete with more in-game experience.
But you don’t throw your king against the ace, you save it for the best opportunity. For Driskel, that starts next week at Auburn. That’s where he’ll get to learn the ropes and practice for his future.
Sending Driskel to Baton Rouge, La., to get eaten alive by the Tigers is not what’s best for the future of UF’s program. The LSU defense has all the talent necessary to give Driskel fits.
With guys like Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon, Lardarius Stimpson and Barkevious Mingo (only one of those names is fake), LSU is going to harass Driskel and pound him into submission.
Beyond the obvious injury risk, who knows what a beatdown in Death Valley would do to Driskel’s confidence?
In four appearances this season, he’s 7 of 16 for 73 yards and two interceptions. This isn’t nearly a large enough sample size to judge his skills, but it certainly doesn’t bode well for Saturday.
And I’m not the only one who knows it. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has watched the same games we have, and he learned last weekend how easy it is to give UF’s offensive line trouble with a few second- and third-level blitzers. And his unit is even faster than the one Alabama brought to The Swamp.
LSU’s run defense touts a No. 3 national ranking despite facing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Tigers held Oregon, last year’s No. 1 offense at 531 yards per game, to just 335 total yards, including only 95 on the ground.
If Driskel has to endure a 60-minute game filled with frustration, confusing schemes and thunderous hits against that defense, what’s that going to do to his psyche long-term?
He didn’t look all that comfortable against FAU, UAB and Kentucky, and appeared downright scared against Alabama.
And that was at home.
Now he’s headed to Tiger Stadium, where an average of 92,533 fans have made LSU’s first two home games nightmarish for opponents. And those were against Northwestern State and Kentucky. When Florida last visited Death Valley, in 2009, a stadium-record 93,129 helped LSU give UF all it could handle. Can Driskel organize the offense and call the signals through that?
Florida’s athletic department shelters all of its freshmen from media access, so I’ve never had an opportunity to speak to Driskel. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have been nearly enough time to learn how he’s likely to respond to adversity or handle himself in pressure situations.
But the fact of the matter is he’s being asked to step into one of the most high-profile jobs in collegiate sports for the first time as his team travels to the stadium a 2007 ESPN.com survey of coaches said was the single toughest place to play. To expect success from any first-timer would be crazy.
So how can the Gators keep Driskel from folding?
The answer is simple: Don’t give him the chance.
Contact Greg Luca at firstname.lastname@example.org.