Monday, September 9, 2013

Jeff Driskel: A Convenient Scapegoat?

After watching all the venom spewed at Jeff Driskel this weekend, I wanted to take a step back from things and try to take a more rational approach to his performance in a 21-16 loss at Miami.

His stat line was decent. 22-of-33 (66.7%) for 291 yards (a career-high), one touchdown against two interceptions. Granted some of those numbers were padded a bit by Florida's hurry-up offense against a Miami prevent defense which all but conceded a score late in the fourth quarter. Still, Driskel took some huge shots (nine hits, by my count) in this game and hung in there to make some big plays.

For the purposes of this analysis, however, let's focus more on the "mistakes." Driskel made three poor decisions throwing the football, that I saw.

– The interception to Miami safety Rayshawn Jenkins into coverage near the goal line in the second quarter. This play took three points off the board for Florida. It was simply an inexcusable decision by Driskel, especially considering a similar experience that cost the Gators points late in the first half against Georgia last year.

– An incomplete pass over the middle to Quinton Dunbar who was blanketed by three defenders on third-and-nine to end the second drive of the game. Trey Burton appeared to have a step on his man in the flat and was a better option on the play. (6:24, first quarter)

– Another incomplete pass to Dunbar down the right sideline on a third-and-three with just over 12 minutes to go in the game. Dunbar was double-covered, while Burton was running a flat-route in which he appeared to be open and in position to get the first down.

Of his additional eight incompletions, there were the following:

– A missed pass to Quinton Dunbar on the sideline on Florida's second drive. Miami's Tracy Howard was in coverage. A dangerous throw, but Driskel put it where only Dunbar had a chance to get it, and the receiver nearly made the play. (6:08)

– The missed opportunity to a wide-open Dunbar in the end zone on a well-timed play-action call early in the second quarter. This incompletion subsequently led to the Jenkins interception a play later. It's easy to wonder whether Driskel was pressing a bit on the next play because of the overthrow of Dunbar, and forced things a bit as a result. (14:16)

– Later in the second quarter, Driskel threw behind an open Dunbar on a crossing route. (11:48)

– Good play-action design out of a run-heavy formation where Driskel couldn't find an open man and threw it out of bounds late in the first half. (2:17)

– An incomplete pass to Clay Burton late in the third quarter. It was a third-and-four situation where the defender (Perryman) batted the ball away. Credit Perryman, in large part, for Miami's win. He was an animal on Saturday. (0:57)

– Clay Burton dropped a pass on a crossing route on the first offensive play of the fourth quarter (after an 18-yard run by Jones was wiped out because of a holding penalty.) (13:52)

– The interception to Burton. Clearly some timing issues on this play. But from my vantage point, Burton ran a flat route and simply didn't have his head around to catch the football. He ran the same route on a third-and-short the Gators didn't convert on earlier in the fourth quarter as well. (EDIT: Let me add, that's my interpretation ... and obviously we'll know more about what happened on this play soon enough)

– Missed pass to freshman Demarcus Robinson (his only target of the game) on a crossing route which took place on the second touchdown drive. The receiver vacated the middle on the play and moved into the flat. Driskel was hit on the play and threw it low and behind Robinson. Essentially the equivalent of a throw away, as Robinson was unlikely to get loose for much of a gain. (4:42)

That's really it. Three bad decisions and two poor throws. There was the sack/fumble in which Max Garcia (filling in for D.J. Humphries) got beat. You can argue Driskel held on to the ball too long, fine. And then the second sack at the end of the game, which really didn't mean much at that point.

So, seven bad plays you can put on Driskel. In 35 called pass plays. Most coaches will take that from their quarterbacks. Was it a great day by Florida quarterbacking standards? No. But it certainly wasn't the downfall of Florida against an opportunistic Miami bunch.

I like to remind UF fans in times like these, that even the all-time greats weren't infallible. Danny Wuerffel threw a critical interception in the waning stages of the 1994 Auburn debacle at home, which set up the Tigers to go on a game-winning touchdown drive. Fast-forward to 4:39 to see a truly awful decision by one of Florida's best ever.

It happens. We remember Wuerffel for all the good now, because there was a lot of it. But even he went through some growing pains. Unfortunately Jeff Driskel is too, and because he didn't get a redshirt year (like Wuerffel did), he's still experiencing these in his junior year, as opposed to his redshirt sophomore campaign as a result.

In any case, Driskel is catching some heat right now. And that comes with the territory with the position. But it wasn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be. At least, not from my vantage point. Now we have to see if #6, and the team as a whole, can rebound from a stinging defeat against an in-state rival to regroup and make a run at earning an invitation to Atlanta.

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