Clutch gene missing from UF's offense

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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As Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel trudged off the field inside Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, he couldn't help but hang his head. Looking at the ground had to feel better than looking up at the scoreboard or at his teammates.

For most of the 60 minutes of actual football action, the junior who many felt coming into the season could be the SEC's most improved player left a lot to be desired with his play in the clutch.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel is helping Florida move the ball, but he can't lead the Gators into the end zone.
The 21-16 loss to Miami showed so many different things about Florida, but the main area of concern was the red zone. Six times the Gators entered Miami's 20-yard line, four times they failed to come away with points. Three times they turned it over -- two by way of a Driskel interception.

If Florida is going to make any sort of charge in the SEC East, the mental errors, turnovers and ugly mistakes that plagued the Gators Saturday have to get corrected, like yesterday, and it all starts with Driskel.

Last year, Driskel was in his second season at Florida with his second different offensive coordinator. This year, he and everyone around him have talked about increased confidence. They've insisted that there's more chemistry with receivers. Driskel is more comfortable in the offense.

In all honesty, you've seen all of that through two games. Driskel was 12th in the SEC in passing last year, averaging 137.2 yards per game and threw 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. Two weeks into the 2013 season, he's averaging 222 yards per game and has two touchdowns to two interceptions.

Driskel even threw for a career-high 291 yards in the loss to Miami, which was lost in his three turnovers.

Florida's offense is in a weird position. It can move the ball, but can't score points. Through two games, the Gators are averaging an SEC-low 20 points per game.

Driskel looked like a deer in headlights when the Gators got inside the red zone Saturday, but for the most part, he played pretty well inside the other 80 yards. He had command of the huddle, wasn't afraid to take a few shots down field (though he missed a few that were wide open) and is still owning the read-option. But his decision-making the closer Florida got to the end zone has to be concerning. And when the running game, which averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, shut down between the tackles, Driskel became too inconsistent with the ball.

The Gators are still searching for a consistent offensive playmaker, but Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton combined to catch 19 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Patton caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown and wowed fans with his awkward, over-the-shoulder 46-yard catch in the first quarter.

But when it was time to put the ball in the end zone during crucial moments, Florida couldn't deliver. Burton fumbled. The coaching staff called a bizarre two-point conversion (that failed) in the first quarter. The Gators went for it on a fourth-and-1, leaving three valuable points on the board early. Oh, and there were two interceptions.

It had to be extremely frustrating inside that locker room knowing how close, yet how far this team was from pulling off a comfortable victory. However, you can't go 2-for-6 in the red zone, turn the ball over five times, and expect to win.

How were the Gators outside the red zone? Well, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida ran 65 plays for 399 yards there. That's an average of 6.1 yards per play. Inside the red zone, Florida ran 12 plays for 14 yards (1.2 yards per play).

Florida gave the ball to Miami three times in the red zone after having just three red zone turnovers last season (two interceptions and a fumble).

It might be hard to grasp, but the offense has moved the ball better for the most part. The Gators went back-to-back games with 400-plus yards of offense for the first time since the first two games of the 2011 season.

The problem is the inconsistency at crucial times. The Gators just aren't scoring points. Penalties cost them in Week 1, and turnovers killed them in Week 2. In two games, Florida has scored on six of 12 red zone visits.

The clutch factor isn't there for Florida, yet, and neither are the points. It hasn't hurt the Gators in SEC play, but Florida can't afford another Miami-like performance if it wants to return to Atlanta.

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