GAINESVILLE — Shortly after Florida's win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, the players gathered to discuss the game, and one phrase was repeated over and over:
"Man down, man up."
Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel sprained his right ankle in the third quarter, and backup Jacoby Brissett came in to help the Gators rally for a victory.
Brissett's teammates said they never doubted the sophomore's ability to do so because he had been practicing and preparing for just that moment, as has the entire team. It's not a matter of if, but when. Brissett is just the latest Gator this season to find himself thrust into a pivotal role after another was injured.
"Man down, man up," senior nose tackle Omar Hunter said. "That's how we've been playing it the whole year. Someone goes down, someone has to step up, and I think he stepped up pretty well. Jacoby did a great job preparing every day in practice like he was going to be the starter. So if that situation ever did occur, he was going to step up in that situation nicely, and he did."
Having reserves ready isn't unusual in football. But Florida coach Will Muschamp's oft-repeated motto has been more than a catchphrase. Multiple starters have been injured this season, but it's the way other players have responded that has helped the Gators to a 9-1 record.
It is, Muschamp said, a tough lesson learned from last year's disappointing season, when injuries derailed the Gators because there were few players ready to fill those positions.
"I've emphasized all along, knowing how our season went a year ago, we had injuries, and I felt like at times we used that as an excuse," Muschamp said. "I went into this season with the mentality of our football team that is not going to be an excuse."
Brissett will start Saturday when the Gators host Division I-AA Jacksonville State, not exactly an SEC-caliber opponent. Brissett has played about the equivalent of two quarters this season.
Still, offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he won't make any drastic changes to the offense.
"I still think we stay within our philosophy," Pease said. "To get to 9-1 and work toward getting to 10-1 and hopefully 11-1, I think we've got a pretty good recipe. Is it totally what you want it to be in the big picture? No. There's things we've got to improve on. There's pieces you can put in. Jacoby has a great opportunity, and what he does to improve us and do a good job for himself, as well as his teammates, hey, it's his stage for this game. Step up and do what you've got to do. You're number's called, go carry the flag."
And what obstacles will the Gators face going from a run-oriented quarterback to a less mobile passer in Brissett?
"Not a thing," senior receiver Frankie Hammond said. "Driskel is more of a mobile guy. He can get out of the pocket a little faster. But I don't think that will close anything as far as our offense is concerned. Jacoby does just as a good a job as Driskel does."
Muschamp said he's unsure of Driskel's status for the Nov. 24 showdown with Florida State in Tallahassee, saying he expects him to be able to play, "but who knows?" Ankle injuries are hard to predict, Muschamp said. If Driskel can't go, Muschamp believes the man-down, man-up philosophy will continue to thrive.
"Injuries are a part of the game," he said. "And in the SEC, as physical of a league as it is, you are going to have injuries. When a guy goes down, the other guy has to step up and play at a high level, and we're not going to use that as an excuse to say we had an injury. That's part of the game, and you have to move on. It's something I came up with: just said, 'Man down, man up.' You need to man up in this league and when you have an injury, somebody else needs to step forward and play well for you."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]