Good catching up with Jeff Driskel at Conference USA media day. He’s a genuinely nice kid who handled his demotion at Florida with class, not to mention the tsunami of social-media criticism that preceded it, and should have a lot more success playing quarterback at Louisiana Tech.
Maybe it would have just been better if he started out at a place like La Tech to begin with, but everybody was after Driskel, the Maxwell Club National High School Player of the year, when he came out of Oviedo in 2011. Signng Driskel away from Alabama, Auburn, Virginia Tech, LSU, Clemson and all the other teams that wanted him was the key to Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class at Florida.
The guy was fully committed to the Gators, all right, even though Urban Meyer’s departure would have given him an easy out. Driskel not only came to Gainesville, he enrolled early and got right to work on building what seemed likely to be one of the most memorable careers ever for a Florida quarterback.
Unfortunately, all anyone remembers now are the untimely turnovers by Driskel and the injuries that held him back, none of which did much for the generally impotent offensive game plan that Muschamp and his various coordinators served up.
There really is a fine athlete here, however, with the emotional maturity to become an instant leader at Louisiana Tech. Last year the Bulldogs went with another transfer quarterback, Cody Sokol, who played very little at Iowa but threw for 30 touchdown passes in one season at Louisiana Tech and got a brief look from the Kansas City Chiefs in May as an undrafted free agent.
Driskel, in contrast, threw 23 touchdown passes in four years at Florida.
Here’s a statistical sampling, however, of why Muschamp kept believing the Gators would take off with Driskel.
He rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 2012 game at Vanderbilt. That’s more than Tim Tebow ever ran for in a game.
Driskel also had a nearly flawless 14-for-20 passing day in a win at Tennessee that same season, plus three touchdown passes in a crazy triple-overtime win over Kentucky just last September. It took a fourth-and-7 scoring pass from Driskel to Demarcus Robinson just to keep that game going into a second overtime period.
Overall, Driskel was 15-6 as a Florida starter, and 9-5 as a starter in SEC games. He won, but not enough to meet the standards that Florida once kept under Meyer and Steve Spurrier, and not against the league’s best competition.
“It was time for me to move on,” Driskel said Wednesday of his decision to transfer shortly after Jim McElwain’s hiring as the new Gators coach. “I hope nothing but the best for the University of Florida.
“It wasn’t like they forced me out. I made the decision and I’m happy with the decision I made.”
And what does Driskel think of Conference USA competition compared to the poundings he took at Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Tallahassee?
“Looking at the NFL draft, a lot of great players have come out of Conference USA,” he said. “As far as what I’ve seen of the defenses on tape, I don’t think it falls off that much from what I was used to.”
That’s Driskel for you, always saying the right things and trying like crazy to do the right things, too. That included him asking, for whatever reason, to take a selfie with me, a weird old hack he doesn’t know from Adam.
Oh, and former Miami coach Larry Coker also looks much more relaxed these days as coach of Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA. The only thing bothering him during the league’s season kickoff session at the Boca Raton Resort & Hotel was the absence of an old friend.
“I usually wear my Miami ring (from the 2001 national championship) to events like this, and for recruiting, but I don’t have it today,” Coker said. “I was washing my hands at home not long ago when it fell on the tile floor and cracked the setting. I figured it would be all right but a few days later I looked down and it was gone. Just a black hole where the setting used to be.
“I’m getting a new setting now, but I tell you, I miss it.”
Coker went 4-8 last year in UTSA’s first season as a full Conference USA member, with a 27-7 win over Houston as the highlight. The Roadrunners also beat FIU 16-13. One of the worst moments of Coker’s Hurricanes career was the bench-clearing brawl that put both Miami and FIU in a horrible light during Larry’s final season with the Hurricanes in 2006.
“That was horrible, just horrible,” said Coker, who told it straight the the other day, just like always, terming the helmet-swinging fight “a riot” rather than a brawl.
They love him out in San Antonio more than Coker ever was loved in Miami. It’s a good fit, just like Louisiana Tech is for Driskel.