Florida's QB competition continues into fall
By MARK LONG
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's quarterback competition will continue in the fall - and without a front-runner - after Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel failed to separate themselves during four weeks of practice and Saturday's spring game.
Brissett was 9 of 16 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Driskel was 12 of 14 for 147 yards, and ran for a score.
Brissett took the first snap with the first-team offense, a likely indicator that he's ahead, and completed deep passes to Latroy Pittman and Michael McNeely. Driskel, who lost the backup job to Brissett in the middle of last season, found Andre Debose for a 44-yard gain.
Both sophomore quarterbacks showed considerably more pocket presence than they did in 2011, but neither did enough to make coach Will Muschamp pick a starter.
"I think you saw both those guys take command of our football team," Muschamp said. "Both guys made vertical plays down the field, good decisions where they took the ball. You saw what I've been seeing from 14 practices previous to today. We can win with both guys."
Both struggled in relief of John Brantley in 2011, raising questions about how quickly Muschamp can turn things around in Gainesville.
The Gators beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl to avoid their first losing season since 1979. And the offense, which ranked 105th in the nation, was the program's worst in more than two decades.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left after one season to take the head-coaching job at Kansas. Muschamp replaced him with Boise State's Brent Pease, who chose to adapt to Florida's offense instead of installing a whole new playbook and new terminology for the players.
That could benefit Brissett and Driskel the most.
They looked fairly comfortable Saturday, although they didn't face any blitzes and didn't have to play against some of Florida's best defenders, including safety Matt Elam (groin), linebacker Jon Bostic (back), cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) and defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee).
Much of their yardage came late, too, and against third-teamers. The teams combined for 279 yards over the final six drives, and scored 27 of the 41 points in the final 4:09.
Driskel capped a 70-yard drive with a 1-yard run that put the Blue team ahead 21-14 with 53 seconds remaining. Brissett rallied the Orange team with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Trey Burton with 23 seconds remaining. But Brissett's two-point conversion pass sailed high and through the end zone.
The QBs couldn't be much different.
Driskel is a scrambler who was recruited by former Florida coach Urban Meyer to run the spread option. He admits he locked onto one receiver too often as a freshman.
"Just knowing the playbook gives you confidence," Driskel said. "Last year, I was kind of a little clueless out there just kind of locking onto one guy. I feel like I'm going through my progressions more and just playing instead of thinking."
Brissett is a pocket passer with a big arm and unafraid to take chances down the field.
"I love throwing the ball deep," Brissett said. "I love getting the drive over in one play, two plays, so we don't have to stay on the field that long."
Driskel would seem to be the better choice to play behind an experienced offensive line that was shaky much of last season. But Muschamp made it clear Saturday that the O-line has made the most progress of any position group and could emerge as a strength in August. That could mean Brissett is the better fit for the pro-style system Muschamp wants.
"Last year, unfortunately, we played both of them," Muschamp said. "Right now, I'm really happy that both of them played. It was tough to go for them because at any level - I don't care if it's high school, college or pro - the quarterback position is so critical and to put so much on those young guys on a football team coming in here as true freshmen is tough. We certainly benefitted from it, though."
Brissett and Driskel still have to make progress for the Gators to contend in the always-tough Southeastern Conference in five months. Muschamp has charged them with getting receivers together over the summer for workouts, key to developing the kind of on- and off-field chemistry Florida has lacked the last two seasons.
"Right now is a huge, huge indicator to see who takes a leg up and see who's going to get our football out there and do team drills," Muschamp said. "They've got to take control of our football team. ... I feel comfortable our offense will, but those guys need to take the next step as far as that's concerned."
Updated April 7, 2012