The last time Jeff Driskel faced Alabama, Florida’s quarterback finished the game battered, bruised and beaten.
In 2011, Driskel — then a true freshman — unexpectedly entered an eventual 38-10 blowout loss to the third-ranked Crimson Tide, leaving the signal-caller with painful memories of his Southeastern Conference initiation.
“They weren’t good,” he said, thrust into action after starter John Brantley was injured.
“I was definitely underprepared. Didn’t know how to prepare at that time to play anybody, especially Alabama as good as they were. Just going in not knowing what you’re doing is not a good situation. I’m not going to let that happen again.”
The Gators (2-0) foray into No. 3 Alabama (3-0) this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), hoping their enigmatic veteran can propel them to an upset and vault them back into the national conversation.
Driskel refused to call the showdown “a statement game.” Instead, he’s simply aiming to play better than his difficult debut against the Tide.
Three years ago, Driskel was just 2 of 6 for 14 yards and was sacked twice, finishing the game with a busted ankle.
“If I remember correctly, I think I fumbled the snap, and I tried to pick it up and got rolled up on,” Driskel said. “That’s how freshmen get hurt: when they’re not ready right there, dropping the snap, don’t remember what the play was. But that just comes with not knowing what you’re doing. I’m going to be prepared this time around.”
Florida certainly hopes so.
Driskel’s veteran moxie saved Florida from embarrassment last weekend, coming up clutch in the first overtime with the tying touchdown on fourth down in UF’s 36-30 triple-overtime escape against Kentucky.
Coach Will Muschamp called it the best play of Driskel’s career, but the Gators need their third-year starter to deliver such moments with more consistency — starting this weekend against Alabama’s vaunted defense.
In offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s no-huddle attack, Driskel has completed 64 percent of his passes, averaging 271.5 yards and two touchdowns per game this season. But the redshirt junior continues to be plagued by accuracy issues, mainly on deep throws, pocket awareness and decision-making.
Driskel was dreadful in the first half against Kentucky (7 of 20, one interception), missing four deep shots that could have blown the game wide open. He rebounded with an impressive second half, but Driskel acknowledged he has to connect on those plays against Alabama.
“I had some open guys, just have to give those guys a chance,” he said. “I know I missed a few, but I’d rather me miss open receivers than not have the open guys. We’re going to get that corrected, and I’m going to have to do that in order for us to be successful down the road.”
The Crimson Tide is ranked No. 10 nationally in total defense, but its secondary is suspect.
SEEKING LONG BALLS
Alabama, like Florida, plays a lot of press-man coverage, so explosive opportunities will be there — if Driskel can get playmakers such as Demarcus Robinson (conference-best 169.5 receiving yards per game) the football.
“We’ve got to hit some of those [deep balls], no doubt about it,” Roper said. “You’ve got to take your shots. I think you know people are noticing that we’re going to take shots that changes things for them defensively.”
It’s up to Driskel to make teams pay. If not, it could be another agonizing evening against the Tide.