While Gators’ Jeff Driskel struggles, other young QBs soar

A number of dastardly things happened to Jeff Driskel last Saturday, and by extension to Will Muschamp, too. Even more perplexing for Florida, not all of those things happened in Tuscaloosa.

In Tallahassee, for openers, the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles got a 304-yard passing performance from Sean Maguire, who had known for all of four days that he would be getting his first start against Clemson.

On that same night, out in Lincoln, Neb., the Miami Hurricanes lost a big game but got 359 passing yards and three touchdown throws from Brad Kaaya, a true freshman with promise.

See how this is going? Other programs are developing, maximizing, even transforming the skills of their quarterbacks, which is a function of good coaching.

Florida, on the other hand, seems to be regressing at the position, with Driskel’s disastrous day at Alabama (9-for-28 for 93 passing yards with two interceptions) all part of a larger pattern.

Last year, when Driskel was lost for the season with a September injury, Muschamp had no trustworthy backups ready to go. By November, the Gators were down to Skyler Mornhinweg, a former scout-team quarterback who was permitted to throw 13 passes in a 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The game plan devolved that day into handoffs on third-and-long and hope for Gamecock turnovers.

Athletic director Jeremy Foley didn’t hire Muschamp for his offensive wizardry, of course, but three different offensive coordinators haven’t exactly solved the problem, either.

New coordinator Kurt Roper, formerly the play-caller at Duke, has the best chance of succeeding. He came to Florida with a plan to fashion an offense to the dual skills of Driskel, now a junior, as a passer and a runner. Against No. 3 Alabama, it was a bust. Against Tennessee, the Gators’ next opponent on Oct. 4, it had better not be.

These Florida fans grew up, remember, on the Fun ‘N Gun of Steve Spurrier. Next came Urban Meyer, who at one point fielded a national championship team so loaded at quarterback that Tim Tebow came off the bench every now and then as a bonus.

Now comes the 2014 Grunt ‘N Punt offense, a 2-of-13 disaster on third down against Alabama. Can’t contend for the SEC East title that way. Can’t convince anybody that the program is building steam, which more than anything else will be the minimum requirement for Muschamp to keep his job.

The list goes on, meanwhile, of other coaching staffs that are taking the quarterbacks they’ve got and making the most of today’s spread-offense scoring frenzy. A couple of those success stories even involve players who once were at Florida, which doesn’t do Muschamp any good either.

Jacoby Brissett transferred to North Carolina State a few years back when it became clear that Driskel always would be the Gators’ first choice. Four starts into his new life at Raleigh, the former Dwyer High School star leads the ACC in completion percentage (69.7) and touchdown passes (10) and the Wolfpack are 4-0.

Also, there’s Tyler Murphy at Boston College. He went 2-4 last year as the Gators’ starter after Driskel was lost for the season with a broken leg. At BC, however, Murphy helped pull off an upset of Southern Cal a few weeks back.

We’re not talking about Heisman Trophy winners here, just good athletes who are being taught to lead. Blake Sims fits that bill. He’s a senior who had to wait forever for A.J. McCarron to graduate before he ever was going to get a chance to start at Alabama, but Sims threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns against the Gators on Saturday, the second-largest passing total in Crimson Tide history.

Nick Saban, Muschamp’s old boss, called running plays only in the final 8:34 or it would have been worse. That’s the closest any rival will come to taking it easy on the Florida coach.

The rest is up to Muschamp, and whatever still can be made of Driskel.