Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) throws a pass against Kentucky during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) is run out of bounds by Kentucky defensive end Jason Hatcher, left rear, and cornerback Fred Tiller as he scrambles out of the pocket during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
GAINESVILLE, Florida — Jeff Driskel's first game against Alabama was a blur.
The Florida quarterback was thrust onto the field as a freshman in 2011 because of an injury to starter John Brantley, played the entire second half and failed to get the Gators past their 45-yard line. He completed two passes for 14 yards, fumbled a snap that led to a turnover, was sacked twice and also sprained an ankle in the 38-10 home loss to the eventual national champions.
Driskel gets another shot at the Crimson Tide on Saturday, when Florida (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) plays at third-ranked Alabama (3-0, 0-0).
"I'm going to be prepared this time around," Driskel said.
Driskel has started 17 games since that folly, including road wins at Texas A&M, Tennessee and Florida State, both this could be his biggest test. The Gators are counting on him being a difference-maker, too.
"The key ingredient is having an experienced quarterback," coach Will Muschamp said. "That, to me, is critical. We have an experienced quarterback that's won big on the road in some tough places. We'll be fine."
Florida probably will need a big game from Driskel.
He wasn't at his best last week against Kentucky, and the Gators struggled at times in the 36-30 win in triple overtime. He completed 25 of 43 passes for 295 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception.
Although he was hampered by poor protection and two dropped passes, he also misfired on four deep balls that would have given the Gators some breathing room and possibly helped them avoid overtime.
"Yeah, I had some open guys," Driskel said. "Just got to give those guys a chance. That's something that we'll get corrected. I'm not too worried about it. I know I did miss a few, but I'd rather me miss the open receivers than not have the open receivers. We're going to get that corrected, and I'm going to have to do that in order for us to be successful down the road."
Running more might open things up, too.
For whatever reason — maybe the Gators have been vanilla or maybe they're trying to keep Driskel healthy — Driskel ran little in the first two games.
He carried seven times for 24 yards, most of those on scrambles.
And with Florida running a spread offense, the threat of the quarterback running — especially on zone-read plays — makes a huge difference.
"We can talk about scheme and stuff all day, but I feel like that just makes the defense concerned about another threat in our offense," center Max Garcia said. "Jeff is really quick and makes good decisions. If he uses his legs, it's just another tool that we have in our offense that can hurt a defense."
The only play Driskel made in that first game against Alabama was with his legs: a 31-yard run that ended up being one of the team's few highlights.
For Florida to reach its potential under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Driskel has to be dual threat. He hasn't shown that ability this season, but he hasn't really had to, either.
But he did come up big when Florida needed him most Saturday.
Facing a fourth-and-7 play from the 9-yard line in the first overtime, Driskel lofted a perfectly thrown pass to Demarcus Robinson in the back of the end zone to keep the game going.
"That was really, shoot, saved us all," Roper said. "That was a big-time play, and I think it was a big-time understanding on his part. It speaks to his understanding of what we're doing."
Muschamp called it the biggest play of Driskel's career.
It surely beat anything that Driskel did against the Crimson Tide three years ago.
"Definitely underprepared," he said. "Didn't know how to prepare at that time to play anybody, especially Alabama as good as they were. Just going in not knowing what you're doing is not a good situation.
"I'm not going to let that happen again. I'm going to do whatever I can this week to prepare and be as ready as I can."
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