During the rapid-fire regular season, there is little time for players to evaluate their performances. By the time one game ends, they already are looking at the next opponent.
The bowl break is different, though, and with more than a month off leading up to Florida’s meeting with Louisville in Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has an opportunity to scrutinize his season and try to make major improvements.
“It’s a chance for me, as well as everybody else, to get better,” he said. “During the season, it’s all game plan. You’re looking at the other team and not yourself. This week and last week, definitely, has given us time to look at mechanics.”
Driskel’s main concern, as it has been all year, is awareness of the pass rush and knowing when to fire the ball out of bounds rather than take a costly sack or try a risky throw into coverage.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease, also the quarterbacks coach, has been putting Driskel through several drills to simulate the quick decisions he must make in games. Sometimes he sets a timer, and other times he throws a bean bag at Driskel’s feet, and when it hits he must throw for a receiver or chuck it out of bounds.
“They’ve got to get the ball out,” Pease said. “Still working live situations, timing and rhythm. It’s not just the quarterback. You’re working with the receivers on timing and rhythm of throws.”
In Driskel’s first season as a starter, the lack of pocket presence has been the most glaring indication of his inexperience. Otherwise, he has outplayed any reasonable expectation.
After ending last year as the No. 3 quarterback, he surged past Jacoby Brissett in the off-season and won the starting job. Driskel, a true sophomore with zero previous starts, helped the Gators to an 11-1 record and the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings.
He has completed 64.7 percent of his passes, which ranks 33rd in the country and is nearly five points better than John Brantley’s percentage as the starter last season. Driskel is averaging 133.7 passing yards and 54.3 rushing yards per game. He produced 15 touchdowns (11 throws, four runs) and threw three interceptions. Brantley threw 11 touchdown passes and seven picks last season.
One of Driskel’s biggest triumphs was leading UF to a 37-26 win at Florida State in the final regular-season game. Playing on a sprained right ankle, he completed 15 of 23 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, giving him a lot of confidence heading into the Sugar Bowl.
“That helps a ton,” he said. “When you put up 37 points against a team like that and you run all over them, that’s great for us.”
It took a few weeks, but his ankle seems to finally be back to normal. Driskel said he has no lingering pain and is fully mobile.
Florida gets 15 practices before facing Louisville (10-2, No. 21 in the BCS) and finished its seventh Tuesday. The Gators will practice three more times here before shifting their operations to the Superdome in New Orleans next Thursday.
Most of practices thus far focused on self improvement, rather than preparing specifically for the Cardinals. The team started implementing its game plan this week.
Coaches often liken the bowl practices to training camp, but this is even better for Driskel. When Florida began working in August, he was splitting snaps with Brissett while they auditioned for the starting job. Now he gets the majority of the reps.
“I’ve been improving all year long, but these extra practices have really helped,” Driskel said.
In his career, Pease has seen several quarterbacks make big leaps during the bowl practices. One of the most recent examples was Boise State’s Kellen Moore.
“It’s their timing, rhythm and confidence,” Pease said. “I saw his arm strength get better and really his anticipation and understanding of defenses.”
That is the kind of progress he hopes Driskel will make, setting him up for a big game in the Sugar Bowl that could launch him toward a breakout season in 2013.
It was at turns clunky and hard to watch, but it was entirely sweet.Georgia Tech played perhaps its most memorable game in the young history of McCamish Pavilion, rallying from 12 points down with less than seven minutes to go and four down with just over a minute left to claim a 67-64 win over Illinois on Tuesday night.