Driskel's bewilderment says one of two things about the unquestioned starting quarterback of the Gators: He is either ultra-focused or ultra-naïve. Either he was so into the game that he didn't hear the boos last season or so unsophisticated in the ways of Gator Nation that he refused to believe his ears.
"I definitely don't remember any boos," Driskel said after Florida's Orange and Blue spring scrimmage Saturday. " . . . I don't know why we would have been booed; we won all of our games at home last year."
In fact, they won all but one of their regular-season games, but it's the way they won them that irked many UF fans. Florida's mundane offense sucked much of the joy out of a season in which the Gators won 11 games and were in national championship contention until the final weekend of the regular season.
Rumor has it the Gators will have a much more effective downfield passing game this year, although fans saw little evidence of it at the Orange and Blue pseudo-scrimmage. Driskel completed just 9-of-20 passes for 70 yards in 11-on-11 drills, but there were some extenuating circumstances. Four of his top receivers were hobbled by injuries and a paucity of healthy offensive linemen forced the Gators to call off the traditional spring game. Instead, fans were invited Saturday to watch Muschamp put the team through a variety of practice drills.
Sound boring? Well, let me just say this: Watching the Gators go through kickoff coverage maneuvers on Saturday was infinitely more entertaining than watching Florida's offense a year ago. The Gators ranked No. 103 out of 120 teams in total offense last season. Even worse was UF's passing offense, which ranked dead last in the SEC and No. 114 in the country. Such offensive numbers are inexcusable for a team located in a talent-rich state filled with speed and agility.
That the Gators could win 11 games with such a putrid offense is a testament to UF's defense last year. But, let's face it, the Gators aren't going to catch lightning in a bottle again. They came from behind eight times during the regular season last year, five times in the second half, and committed only 12 turnovers. That's not going to happen every year.
Not surprisingly, Florida's lack of offense has coincided with the program's flagging attendance. There was a time when the Gators were a sure sell-out even when they played humpty-dumpty nonconference opponents. Not anymore. Even in the Sugar Bowl last year, Florida fans bought significantly less than half of the school's allotted tickets to the game and were badly outnumbered by Louisville fans.
It's up to Driskel and his offensive teammates to re-energize Gator Nation. As he enters his junior season, Driskel says he is more comfortable and less tentative than he's ever been at UF. Jacoby Brissett, the backup who pushed him for the starting job last year, has transferred and Driskel is unquestionably the man this year. His backup — redshirt junior Tyler Murphy — has appeared in only three games and never thrown a pass.
It's no wonder Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are concerned about how many times they call designed running plays for Driskel this year. They know if he gets injured, the season is in serious jeopardy.
"I do need to try to limit the shots I take this year," said Driskel, the Hagerty High product. "Coach Muschamp and Coach [Brent] Pease have definitely put that into my head."
Before Driskel took the field at Saturday's sparsely attended spring scrimmage (about half the size of last year's crowd of 38,000), fans flocked around the three statues in front of the stadium and posed for pictures with the bronze likenesses of UF's three Heisman-winning quarterbacks — Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. Those statues symbolize what gets Gator fans juiced up — great quarterbacks and high-powered offenses.
It's been three years since Tebow left, and it seems he took the offensive buzz and excitement of Florida football with him. The Gators have not had a quarterback or a wide receiver who fans could actually get excited about since.
Can Jeff Driskel be the man to lead the offense out of abyss and into the light?
It's his team now.
Time for him to lead the Orange and Blue and silence the Orange and Boooooos.
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