We saw something new last Saturday night in Florida’s 34-10 blowout over Vandy: the Driskel package. Well actually, Driskel running on the Dores is nothing new, but I wasn’t pleased to see it the other night.
After the Gators got clobbered by Missouri a few weeks ago, Will Muschamp decided to go with Treon Harris at quarterback. It’s paid off in spades so far; Harris hasn’t been phenomenal, but he’s done fine, which is more than we can say about Driskel. Plus, he’s a talented young quarterback learning on the job. At this stage of his career, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s going to go through some growing pains as he keeps going, as most do. And I’m totally willing to live with those and move past them, even if that means a pick six against FSU that costs the Gators the game.
But what I’m not willing to live with is hampering Harris’s growth by putting in Jeff Driskel at any capacity.
I’ve made this clear on numerous occasions, and it’s worth stating again: I think Jeff Driskel is a wonderful human being off the field. He’s a smart guy, very polite and has a likable personality. I wish him the best in whatever he does; if he transfers, or switches positions, or anything at all he does later in life. Some Gator fans may wish vile things on him; I’ll be rooting for him to succeed. That said, I don’t want to see him take another snap at QB for Florida. Ever again.
There is a long list of harmful things you do by removing Harris from a game in favor of Driskel. I’m not even going to revisit Driskel’s dozens of mistakes, because a) we’ve been there before and b) as a freshman, Harris is bound to make those mistakes too. I guarantee you he’ll try to force a long ball into triple coverage at some point, or that he’ll heave one off his back foot into the middle of the field. So even though those are the same mistakes Driskel has made, I’m willing to let Harris make them for the rest of the season because at least he provides the upside of having room to grow and learn from them while Driskel does not.
But more on that a little later. There are other significant issues I have with removing Harris and inserting Driskel.
The first problem I have with the Driskel package is that it takes Harris out of a rhythm, and deprives him of what could be valuable reps. The only reason Muschamp would use the “Driskel package” would be on short yardage situations, whether that’s at the goal line or a 3rd and 1 back at your own 40. In some way or another, that means that Florida would have had to gain some yards to get to that short yardage situation- and with Harris at QB. By inserting Driskel for a 3rd and 1, you are removing the quarterback who got you those nine yards (OK, maybe sometimes it comes on a handoff, but Harris did a lot more himself against Vandy) in favor of a quarterback who’s just been sitting on the bench for awhile.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Jeff Driskel has proven repeatedly that he is not the guy we want at quarterback for the future, even on short yardage snaps. Driskel is only here one more year- and that’s if he doesn’t transfer- while Harris is a true freshman. To take even a single rep away from the guy who could very well be your future and give it to the guy who you know is not your future is difficult for me to wrap my head around. A close game, on the road, he’s gotten the team down the field this far- why not let him finish the drive, and get a touchdown to boost his confidence?
An even bigger problem with putting Driskel in the game is that… well, he isn’t a good quarterback, however you want to define the term. Driskel can’t read the field, locks onto targets, and most importantly, he can’t throw. We’ve seen this for the better part of three years now, but short arming that screen pass I just linked is on a “wow, it’s worse than I thought” level. Because throws like that are the norm from Driskel, the defense knows that he’s been put in the game to run, which significantly shrinks the part of the field that the Gators can realistically gain yards by. In other words, the defense is (correct in) banking on Driskel not being able beat them through the air, and know the only threat he really poses is through the tackle box, so that’s what they defend, clogging the gaps and increasing their chances of shutting him down. It’s a numbers game that Florida will lose.
Florida’s offense is not naturally explosive, so “staying on schedule” is crucial. The idea is first and ten becomes second and seven, which becomes third and three and sets up a manageable opportunity to get a first down. To keep defenses off balance, sometimes you have to mix it up on first down and try to get thirty yards instead of three. Even if the play itself fails, you’ve at least succeeded in sending a message to the defense that they’re going to have to back off or risk getting burned with a bomb.
But the problem here is that with Driskel, you’re threatening opponents with water balloons instead of TNT. Driskel poses approximately zero threat to throw a deep ball, so defenses are safe in assuming that when he’s in the game, he’s going to run. They are aware that yes, Driskel could hypothetically throw one deep. But combine his lack of confidence in himself and his inaccurate arm and the chances of that deep ball being completed are astronomical, so they’ll take those chances and focus on stopping the run.
Think about the third down play at the Vanderbilt goal line in the second quarter. The defense instantly saw Driskel in the game and recognized that it was going to be a QB power line, so they stacked the box and blew up the play for a loss, killing the drive. On the next drive, Driskel was put in on a fourth and goal from the 1. The entire Vandy defense swarmed the box and really stopped him as he went airborne, but he was lucky enough to fall from atop the pile in such a way that the ball was over the line. He needed about a foot, and he got 13 inches. Even though he got the yardage that Muschamp wanted to get, you could see that the defense knew how to stop it, and the stop they made earlier in the game suggests that this type of play won’t work too often in the future.
Muschamp and Kurt Roper may have designed the “Driskel package” to be a sort of Wildcat, but that’s even worse because there are several Gator skill position players to choose from for this- Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor, Brandon Powell, Mack Brown, Adam Lane, Andre Debose, Valdez Showers, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather trust one of the guys whose job it is to carry the football than a quarterback. Driskel’s not a bad runner by any means, but he’s not a running back.
Finally, using Driskel simply deflates the entire team around him. For whatever reason, the rest of the team just plays better when Harris is the game. Think about all the examples. Three quarters with Driskel, and Florida’s down 9-0 against Tennessee. One quarter with Harris, however, and the Gators dominate the fourth quarter to win 10-9. Tevin Westbrook dropped the game winning touchdown pass from Driskel against LSU, but he somehow pulled down a desperate lob from Treon Harris against Missouri (see this comparative vine).
Perhaps what’s most important is the big picture. Florida has won two out of their five games this season with Driskel playing from start to finish (or until the game was out of hand). One of those was against a horrid Eastern Michigan team, and another came in triple overtime against a Kentucky team that’s going to finish 7-5 at best. Meanwhile, Harris has led Florida to a blowout win over a 6-1 Georgia team that basically controlled its own destiny to the college football playoff and another blowout over a Vanderbilt team that they were supposed to blow out.
I can’t say for sure exactly why this is, but the team simply plays harder, and better, with Harris in the game. I’m not going to speculate why, either. But the fact is that this team plays its best when they know that Treon Harris is their leader. And I’ve heard this from two separate former Gators, neither of whom are still at Florida, so I know I’m not crazy. (If you’re curious, both departed after 2012. Both wished to remain anonymous, but they each told me that their frustration over Muschamp’s undying faith in Driskel began when he named Driskel the starter for Texas A&M after the Bowling Green game.) These two players- and according to them, many more- preferred Jacoby Brissett at QB over Driskel. So clearly this is not a new issue.
There’s only one real reason why Muschamp uses Driskel: he honestly believes the package gives Florida the best chance to win. He truly believes that Jeff Driskel is beneficial to this football team. Even now, as he quietly tiptoes away from that notion, like “noooooooo, not my idea!”, he wants to give Driskel every possible chance to prove that he was at least right in his idea that Driskel could help this team on the field.
So I beg of you, Muschamp. For your own sake. Please stop this insanity you call the Driskel package, which is nothing more than a glorified Wildcat. What you are doing is telegraphing a running play. Any good defense is going to stuff the box and blow up the play eight times out of ten. I’m not willing to trade two 12 yard runs for eight negative/zero yard plays, and you, Muschamp, shouldn’t either. And if you insist on running this type of play, at least put in a running back like Matt Jones or Kelvin Taylor and just call it the Wildcat.
Muschamp is just asking for trouble with this “package.” And I have the feeling that he’s going to get it if he doesn’t get rid of it.