In his first season as Florida’s starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel has shown a penchant for protecting the ball when he drops back behind the line of scrimmage.
Through 28 quarters of play, Driskel has just one interception and one fumble to his name, despite being sacked 21 times by opposing players looking to punch, poke and swipe possession clean from his hands.
Driskel’s preparation for the savage pass rushes he faces on Saturdays begins with UF coordinator Brent Pease doing his best impression of an SEC defensive end in practice.
To promote ball security, Pease slides on a pair of cylindrical arm pads to mimic the massive arms of an athletic SEC defender like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
“[Jeff] drops back, and he just acts like he’s throwing the ball,” Pease said. “I’m slapping his arms. I put these big crayons on and act like I’m a D-linemen with arms like Clowney — which, let me just tell you that that guy is as good as advertised.”
During Gators’s 44-11 win against the Gamecocks last Saturday, Clowney pressured Driskel for much of the first half and wrapped the sophomore signal caller up for a sack.
However, for the second straight game, Driskel helped the Gators escape without a turnover.
“If there’s one stat you really chart every week, it’s ball security,” Pease said. “Outside of winning, there’s really one goal board we have that we look at it. It’s our turnover margin.”
The Gators have given away possession just four times during their 7-0 start this season, resulting in three points for the opposition. The lone field goal surrendered came off a Driskel fumble forced by LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan late in the second quarter of Florida’s 14-6 home win on Oct. 6.
Florida’s defense, meanwhile, has created 15 turnovers, which Driskel and the offense has helped translate into 52 points.
“When you have a defense like we do, you don’t have to force anything and you don’t have to try to score on every play or anything like that,” Driskel said. “Last year, we had a bad turnover margin and this year we have a really good turnover margin.”
While Driskel has yet to commit a calamitous number of turnovers this season, Pease was quick to point out the Gators still have talented and opportunistic defenses left on their schedule.
When Florida plays Georgia in Jacksonville this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. for a chance at the SEC East title, Pease’s top priority will be accounting for All-America Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones.
In last season’s opener against a Pease-coached Boise State offense, Jones had a career-high 11 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.
Jones also wreaked havoc against the Gators later in the year by forcing a fumble and sacking former UF quarterback John Brantley four times.
“After going against him and just watching how fast he played the game, the strength he played with, how they used him, he is definitely an impact player,” Pease said. “He can cause fumbles. He’s all over the field. … He’s got an extreme talent and plays the game extremely well.”
In his second year at Florida, Driskel said he has the Gators’ coaching staff to thank for helping him learn to play smart against defenders so far this season like Clowney and Jones.
Though Driskel’s numbers this year pale in comparison to some of the statistics Pease’s past quarterbacks like Kellen Moore put up, the coach is content with his young quarterback accomplishing his No. 1 goal.
“I’ve been very happy that we’ve had four games where we haven’t turned the ball over,” Pease said. “That’s part of the job of the quarterback, too. You’ve got to take care of the ball because not all situations are perfect.”