GAINESVILLE – Oviedo’s Jeff Driskel called it “a lifelong dream” to be named the Florida Gators starting quarterback.
Coach Will Muschamp said Monday’s decision was a necessity as his team prepares to open SEC play on Saturday at Texas A&M.
“I just felt like at this time it’s good to name one guy and go with it,” Muschamp said Monday. “I think right now in the development of our offense, that’s something that's going to benefit us.”
Muschamp’s choice ends the quarterback competition between Driskel, a former Hagerty High star, and fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett. It also answers the biggest question the team has faced since the end of last season, when each quarterback played extensively as freshmen.
“I told Jeff, I don’t want you to be looking over your shoulder,” Muschamp said. “But you need to play well.”
Driskel will be making his first career start in a hostile environment, facing off against the Aggies and their rabid fans. Kickoff for Florida’s game at Texas A&M is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Driskel and Brissett engaged in a heated competition during spring and preseason practices. Florida entered Saturday’s season opener against Bowling Green with a two-quarterback rotation in place.
During the pregame introductions, the school even announced both players as the team’s starting quarterback. But it soon became clear somewhere along the way Driskel had overtaken Brissett.
Driskel said Muschamp told him Monday, “the choice wasn’t just based on Saturday.”
Brissett opened under center against Bowling Green, but Driskel took the next snap and would quarterback the team on all but 11 of 63 offensive plays during a 27-14 win.
Driskel ended the day 10-of-16 for 114 passing yards, hooking up with senior Frankie Hammond Jr. for a 50-yard touchdown to put the Gators ahead 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. Brissett, who did not play in the second half, was 3-of-5 for 31 passing yards.
Driskel also rushed for 24 yards on three carries, showing mobility that Muschamp said played a key role in the decision.
“Running the ball is a big part of my game,” Driskel said. “I can make a play at any time.”
Asked why he felt Driskel got the nod, Gators defensive end Dominique Easley, who is expected to be the team’s top pass rusher, answered, "Speed. He gets outside the pocket.”
The Gators hope Driskel eventually can ignite an offense ranked 105th nationally in 2011 and 62nd after one game.
Muschamp relied heavily on the running game against Bowling Green, but he said he held back a good bit of the playbook new offensive coordinator Brent Pease used to light up defenses while at Boise State.
Hammond, the senior wideout, said the team is confident it can win with either quarterback, but Driskel is more of a threat as a runner and also “made a couple of plays” during the opener that might have set him apart.
While each quarterback has friends, if not a following, within the team, Hammond said he does not anticipate Muschamp’s decision will divide the locker room.
Still, ESPN reported Saturday sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar complained to Brissett following a poor throw by Driskel.
“We’re a close knit group,” Hammond said. “ I don’t think Driskel being the starter will break up the team or anything like that.”
Muschamp called the choice “a very difficult decision,” and said Brissett “wasn’t very happy” when being told he would be Driskel’s backup.
“I would expect that,” Muschamp said.
Driskel knows how Brissett feels. Last season, coaches opted for Brissett when starter John Brantley suffered an injury.
“At first I was real upset and going through a little tough time,” Driskel recalled. “But I had the support of family and friends and just stayed working hard.”
Muschamp expects a similar approach from Brissett, whom Muschamp told is “one snap away” from getting on the field.
“Jacoby will still be repped at practice and be ready when called on,” Muschamp said.
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