The Monday Morning Quarterback: Time for Driskel to Ride the Pine

Jeff Driskel struggled mightily against Alabama. Perhaps it's time for him to sit? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Jeff Driskel struggled mightily against Alabama. Perhaps it’s time for him to sit? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Florida Gators starting quarterback Jeff Driskel came in as the number one rated high school qb in the nation. A camp superstar, he had all the measurables. Great size at 6-4 235, a cannon arm, good foot speed in the run game and elusiveness in the pocket.

Every school in America was recruiting him and despite committing to former head coach Urban Meyer, Driskel kept his commitment to Florida and since then has been Will Muschamp’s first choice for starter almost from the day he arrived on campus. Since taking over for John Brantley, he’s been given every opportunity to lead the Gator offense.

Now The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it’s time for him to sit.

Sit for the good of the Gator program.

Sit for the future of Will Muschamp at Florida.

And make no mistake, Muschamp’s job is tied specifically to the production of the Florida quarterback this season. But we’ll get to that later.

For now let’s get a little perspective. Historically, Florida’s fortunes have always been tied to the play of their quarterbacks. Every great team has had great quarterbacks. Spurrier, Reaves, Bell, Matthews, Wuerffel, Grossman, Leak, Tebow, et al. When Florida’s quarterback play has suffered, so have their fortunes.

It’s no surprise then that the Gators have struggled since Tim Tebow left. You can blame line depth, lack of skill position talent, or archaic offensive systems, but realistically it’s been the poor performance of Gator quarterbacks that lie at the root of their struggles.

And so here we have Driskel. This was supposed to be his year. New system installed by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper that was supposed to better fit his skill set as an athletic quarterback. A spread attack which allows him to make quick reads and quick throws getting the ball to his playmakers in space.

But, new season, new system, new offensive coordinator… same ole Driskel. Sure he’s a camp monster. Big arm, nice wheels, great size. Apparently, he’s a practice monster as well. Why else would Muschamp stick with him through thick and thin? However, it just hasn’t translated to game play.

His biggest problem is that he hasn’t progressed.

He still stares down his receivers, struggles to get through his progressions, and misses open receivers frequently getting the ball off late. These are problems that a fourth year quarterback shouldn’t be having. Five times against Kentucky he missed wide open receivers on deep throws. He missed a few more on Saturday at Alabama. Driskel is 0-fer on deep throws on the season.

Conversely, his backup, true freshman Treon Harris is 2-2 for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns on deep throws. Yes, they were against Eastern Michigan but Driskel missed his against the same team and realistically does it matter who they’re playing? An open receiver is an open receiver and a good quarterback, especially one starting for the University of Florida should be able to hit wide open receivers. Harris’ throws were on time, on target, and dropped into the receiver’s hands so softly they couldn’t be dropped.

There really is no excuse for Driskel’s struggles at this point in his career. He’s had tons of coaching and practice as well as all the meaningful snaps in 19 career games at Florida. Most qb’s in the NFL don’t get 19 starts while struggling to complete passes like he has. Why Muschamp continues to pin his career aspirations on the arm of Driskel is a mystery to the Monday Morning Quarterback. Perahps it’s the fear of the unknown, perhaps it’s a dogged determination to be proven right about him.

One thing’s for certain: Driskel must show significant progress and do it now if he hopes to salvage this season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with the likes of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State all looming and all with stout defenses in their own right.

Sometimes you just got to shake things up.

Steve Spurrier never hesitated to bench a starting quarterback who was underperforming even famously rotating qb’s on each play against FSU in 1998. Perhaps Muschamp should take a page from Spurrier’s play book.

Will Muschamp, for the record, has stated he is sticking with Driskel as the starter because he “gives them the best chance to win”. The Monday Morning Quarterback watched the game on Saturday and he’s not really sure what game Muschamp was watching. The Gators had ZERO chance of winning that game with Jeff Driskel as quarterback. If he’s their best chance at winning then maybe they should scrap this season and prepare for the future.

Or perhaps, they should just see what they have in Harris. Gameplan a few series for him. Or if Driskel struggles again against Tennessee like he did against Alabama, let Treon take a shot at leading this team in real time. What would have happened to the New England Patriots if Drew Bledsoe hadn’t gotten hurt? We may never have known how good Tom Brady really could be. He was a 6th round pick that had an up and down career at Michigan known mostly as the guy who played ahead of prep phenom Drew Henson. Sometimes you don’t really know what you got until you make a change.

Realistically, what’s the worst that could happen? The Gators might lose? They might get blown out? Seriously, it can’t get any worse than it was on Saturday. Sure, he could throw some bad picks but realistically, would that be any worse than what we saw on Saturday. That offense had no shot at maintaining any consistent drives. And it’s not because the offense line couldn’t block. They were tested for sure but held up pretty well.

It’s not because the running backs didn’t come to play. Both Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor ran the ball hard and did what was expected of them. They simply didn’t get enough touches because the passing game couldn’t convert third down throws.

Yes, the receivers once again had a couple of drops but more often than not it was Driskel’s errant or late throws that were the bigger problem. Besides, perhaps the drops are as much a result of Driskel’s erratic throws than a lack of concentration by the receivers? The passing game is a rhythmic excercise and when the ball gets there, what kind of touch is put on it, and where the quarterback puts the ball are all important aspects of completing passes.

The biggest issue the Monday Morning Quarterback has seen with Driskel is all too often he puts the ball in the wrong spot for success and tends to throw a difficult ball to catch. And it hasn’t gotten any better with time.

Past performance is often indicative of future performance.

In my day job in retail leasing and collections we have many great customers who pay like champs on time and there are no issues. There are also a percentage who don’t pay as agreed and we have to chase them and baby sit them to get paid. I tell my sales team all the time that with new customers we don’t always know what we got so dig deep and utilize all resources to make good decisions. But past or current customers we do know. We have a track record and that should be considered before extending further lease opportunities as people rarely change. In other words, past performance IS indicative of future performance.

With Driskel, we have a known commodity at this point. A hot shot camp skill guy and practice performer who cannot seem to duplicate that success in live game action. We certainly have enough evidence that he’s a sketchy leader. What we don’t know for sure is what we have on the bench. The staff brought in two top rated quarterbacks in the offseason and gave both an opportunity to compete for the back up job during fall camp. After a too close for comfort competition the staff made the difficult decision to redshirt Will Grier and keep Treon Harris as the back up.

Benching Driskel or at least giving Harris some early game opportunities will hopefully serve two purposes. Get some solid game experience for Harris and perhaps put a fire into Jeff Driskel. Sometimes the prospect of losing one’s job might push you to not play scared. Maybe the light will finally come on for Jeff.

And maybe Muschamp might find out that he has Tom Brady sitting on the bench. He might not ever know as long as he continues to hold a candle for Driskel. Treon might not be the answer but one things certain at this point: Jeff Driskel is not the answer either.

Leaders lead, winners win.

If there’s a choice between a guy with great leadership skills and a guy with great physical skills, take the leadership. Tim Tebow’s poor passing skills have been famously dissected by anybody connected with the NFL or ESPN. However, in spite of those defects, Tebow won a Heisman and helped lead the Gators to two national titles. How did he do it? His leadership.

He refused to lose, never gave up, and willed his team to victory on many occasions. Guys wanted to play for him and with him. His leadership helped lift the level of play of his teammates.

With Driskel, you don’t get the same feel or vibe. I’m not saying his teammates don’t like him or respect him, it’s just that you don’t get the sense that he inspires his teammates or that they are excited that he’s their quarterback.

There has always been question marks as to just how much confidence he instills in his teammates.

Two years ago there appeared to be some locker room controversy over who the players felt should be the starter, Driskel or former teammate Jacoby Brisset. When Brisset transferred out after the 2012 season that controversy died down, but after Saturday’s poor performance against Alabama, there might be another controversy over whether or not Treon should start in place of Driskel.

Sometime after Saturday’s game, top wideout Demarcus Robinson reportedly had retweeted a fan tweet about making a change at quarterback before quickly deleting it and then tweeting that he has faith in all the Florida quarterbacks.

Not so fast my friend.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes there is some controversy in the locker room, maybe not spoken but perhaps quietly.

Either way Driskel’s leadership skills are lacking and maybe it’s time to see what kind of leadership Treon Harris can bring.

After all, all he’s done is win at every level.

He was a two-time state champion at powerhouse Miami Booker T Washington high school and won a mythical national championship his senior year as his team finished atop every major national high school poll.

One thing about athletes, particularly quarterbacks, is winners are winners. They find ways to win. They have a knack for winning. They’re winners.

I’m reminded of Tommy Frazier. Coming out of high school where he couldn’t be stopped he wasn’t recruited as a quarterback by most major programs including Florida.

He didn’t have the measurables, the passing skills necessary to win at the FBS level.

Or so most coaches thought.

He ended up signing with Nebraska, the one school who gave him a shot at qb and all he did was win back to back national championships in 1994 and 1995 and was the only player ever awarded an MVP award in three national championship games.

Of course, Gator fans remember him running up and down the field against the Gators in the 95 title game. But here’s a guy with a questionable skill set that succeeded at the highest level.

Leaders lead and winners win. At this point, Driskel’s leadership skills are questionable at best.

Where there’s a Will there’s a way?

One other thing that is certain is that Will Muschamp’s job security at the University of Florida is uniquely tied to how well his quarterback plays this season. Coming in to the season, Muschamp might have been sitting on the hottest seat of any coach in the FBS. After almost losing to lowly Kentucky at home and then laying an egg on the road at Alabama, his coaching seat is absolutely on fire.

He did everything he needed to do in the offseason to buy him a little time. He fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the plodding run first offense and brought in spread guru Kurt Roper to install a fast paced offense designed to utilize Driskel’s strengths. He brought in a host of skill position talent for Roper to utilize. With Roper’s offense designed to spread the field and get the ball to playmakers in space and allow them to use their athleticism to move the football, the Gators are missing one thing and one thing only: somebody to GET THE BALL TO THE PLAYMAKERS.

With the young Gator defense poised to take their lumps this season as they learn on the fly, the offense absolutely MUST be able to sustain drives and score. A lot. How well the quarterback is able to make this happen will most definitely determine if Muschamp lives to coach another season or is unceremoniously dumped after this one.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that if Muschamp hopes to stick it out in Gainesville he must bench quarterback Jeff Driskel in favor of the young phenom Treon Harris who is the future at the position. And the time to do it is now, while the season is still salvageable.

Even former players like Emmitt Smith are calling for him to be benched.

It’s one thing for fickle fans to call out the starting quarterback when he struggles. Fans are that way and the old adage rings true that the favorite player on the team is always the back up quarterback. However, when former players who’ve been there done that and know the nuances of playing the position start jumping off the bandwagon, perhaps it’s time to take heed.

Players know that guys have bad games once in a while. They know that one isn’t always at the top of their game. They know how difficult it can be for a young back up to come in and perform at a high level. For this reason, they’re likely to remain much more patient than the average fan. However, even their patience only goes so far and they understand when a player just doesn’t have it, he just doesn’t have it.

It’s looking more and more as though Jeff Driskel doesn’t have it.

So let’s let him sit down and watch for a little while and give the true freshman a realistic chance to lead this team and see where it takes us shall we? It can’t be much worse than it already is and perhaps it will salvage their season.

I am the Monday Morning Quarterback and I’m out.


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