GAINESVILLE — When Florida's Jeff Driskel stood outside the locker room at Sun Life Stadium and took the blame for the Gators' 21-16 loss to Miami, it wasn't all just about a leader taking one for the team.
At least not statistically speaking.
As the debate rages about Driskel's ability to read defenses and Florida's lack of consistent downfield passing, one glaring fact stands out in the junior quarterback's losses as a starter:
If he doesn't take care of the ball, the Gators lose.
In Florida's loss to Miami on Sept. 7 and in its two losses last season, Driskel's turnovers were a major issue: He had 10 turnovers in those three games. Of the Gators' 14 turnovers in those three losses, six of Driskel's nine career interceptions were among them.
So ball security is very much at the forefront for the No. 19 Gators as they prepare to host Tennessee on Saturday — and beyond.
"First of all, don't try to do too much as a quarterback," Driskel said when asked about rectifying a troubling situation. "I've been out here this whole year trying to do so much. Just go with what you're coached and don't try to do too much, and hold onto the ball when you're running."
Florida is ranked at the bottom of the 14-team SEC in turnover margin (minus-4), which is its worst in the past decade. The Gators were minus-2 in 2006 and 2011.
Coach Will Muschamp said it's one of the major reasons UF is 1-1 for the first time since 2004. Muschamp, who constantly preaches discipline and ball security, acknowledges the turnovers — for the entire team — are disturbing but said it's something they'll continue to work on.
"It's always a thing in every practice," he said. "We practice it every single day, offensively, we take all of our defensive players who are returners and they do it every single day. It's something we talk about constantly, we emphasize, we take pictures of … there's no new emphasis on ball security that hasn't been talked about before. We've been very good last season in ball security, other than one football game (Georgia). This year we had an issue (against Miami), obviously. We've got to move forward, create more turnovers defensively and create more momentum for our football team."
In the Miami game, Driskel wasn't alone. Sophomore running back Matt Jones' fumble led to the Hurricanes' first touchdown, and senior receiver Trey Burton also had a costly fumble. Jones, in his first game after spending a month battling a viral infection, said after watching game film, he knows what went wrong in his carrying technique.
"That's what it was, my ball position," said Jones, a sophomore out of Armwood High. "I'm supposed to have it rolled under my shoulder. … I did wrong on my part."
Which is why Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease isn't happy about so much blame flowing Driskel's direction.
"It goes along with being a quarterback, I guess," Pease said. "Jeff's a strong kid. I don't think anybody deserves all the blame. That's not the situation. … There are things as an offense we've got to do better. I've got to do a better job of putting the kids in that situation. When we look back on it, it really comes down for us to hold onto the ball and make about three better calls for them down there (in the red zone)."
Based on recent history, for Driskel and the Gators, holding onto the ball is most critical.
"We know that teams are going to be going for the ball this year," Driskel said. "We've really got to work on ball security and really lock in, especially in the red zone."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.