COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Two weeks ago, Jeff Driskel was the Florida quarterback who couldn't win the job outright, about to enter the season opener still auditioning for the job.
Saturday morning, he was the quarterback many Florida fans weren't sure was the right pick. By Saturday evening, he was the inexperienced quarterback who took the Gators on the road into difficult circumstances, struggled early but rallied his team to a 20-17 victory in front of 87,114 at Kyle Field in Texas A&M's inaugural SEC game.
And when it was over, Florida coach Will Muschamp wasn't the least bit surprised.
"They asked me after the game, 'What did you learn about Jeff Driskel?' " Muschamp said. "I said nothing. I knew it going into the game. The guy's a tough guy.
"He plays through it. I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know. And I mean that as a very big compliment."
Driskel was 13-of-16 for 162 yards and aided his team with his athleticism and mobility, rushing 14 times for 56 yards (although he lost 48 due to eight sacks).
Most of all, the sophomore gained confidence and the admiration of his teammates for his composure during adversity.
"Driskel played great," tight end Jordan Reed said. "He was real excited in the huddle and confident, so it made me excited when he made a play."
"He was very positive on the sideline," right guard Jon Halapio said. "When things didn't go right for us, he picked everybody up. He kept everybody positive and said don't worry we're going to come back with some points."
It wasn't a work of art.
Driskel was 6-of-6 for 82 yards in the first half but took five of the eight sacks, and the Gators trailed 17-10. At times, he seemed lost and appeared not to see the field well.
But according to his teammates, his demeanor at halftime was upbeat, supremely confident. He said that confidence reflected his teammates' belief in him.
"We were really composed in there," Driskel said. "No one hung their head. No one was pointing fingers at each other. We just came in, got the things we needed to correct corrected and went out and knew there was a whole other half to play."
Driskel and the Gators were aided by a second straight impressive performance from Mike Gillislee, who rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries.
The senior gave the Gators a 7-3 lead with a 4-yard run with 3:51 remaining in the first quarter. His 24-yard run helped set up a 25-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to pull the Gators within 17-13 3:58 into the second half. And his 12-yard run down the right sideline, eluding defenders, gave the Gators the go-ahead touchdown 1:55 into the fourth quarter.
"We were able to flip the field offensively and really win the game on offense at the end," Muschamp said. "When they knew we were going to run it, we ran it. We had to run it. When you line up and can be able to run the football and people know you're going to run it, that's what you have to do."
The sacks were the most disappointing part of Driskel's day.
"We knew they were going to pressure me," he said. "I've got to get rid of the ball better."
Driskel will head into Knoxville to face Tennessee this week with something invaluable: road game experience and confidence.
"It just shows we can keep our composure. We're not going to let things get to us," he said. "We know it's a long game, and we know we can come back. So that's big for us in the long run because we're not going to be up all the time.
"We're going to have to come back in other games. Now that we've done that, we can show that we can do it and we can do it again."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]