- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel will be on a mission in Florida's spring game on Saturday.
His goal? Win over a skeptical fanbase.
"I want to show them that I'm confident," the junior quarterback said on Wednesday, "that I didn't let the Miami game or the injury take away from my confidence."
The Miami game in Week 2 still haunts Driskel, whose two red-zone interceptions and sack-fumble practically handed the Hurricanes a 21-16 win.
The injury, which came one week later against Tennessee, was a broken leg that required surgery and six months of rehab. On the play he got hurt, Driskel threw a pick-six.
By the time he limped off the field, more than a few fans were ready for a new quarterback. They had watched Driskel commit 13 turnovers (seven interceptions and six fumbles lost) in his previous eight games.
"I caught a lot of criticism, which was deserved," he said. "But I do think that over the course of the year, I would have been able to redeem myself. But if you make costly mistakes like that, what do you expect?"
What Driskel expects on Saturday is to look good in Florida's new offense. It's a spread-option attack, very similar to the offense he ran in high school, when he was recruited to be the next star quarterback in then-coach Urban Meyer's offense.
"I feel like it fits not just me but all of our players," Driskel said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays in space, and this offense creates space. We’ve made some big plays against our defense, which is exciting."
There hasn't been much excitement from Florida's offense since Will Muschamp replaced Meyer.
After a disastrous season in 2013, Muschamp hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper away from Duke to revive the offense ... and Driskel.
"He's talented, folks," Roper said. "I mean, we're sitting here talking about a guy that's really, really gifted. And his experience shows whenever we have conversations. He understands football. It's not his first rodeo."
Roper watched Driskel in high school, knowing it was highly unlikely he could get the nation's top QB prospect to Duke.
"Now I get the luck of the draw here," Roper said. "That's a big, powerful, fast-twitch, natural throwing motion."
Driskel's arm has been on full display throughout Florida's spring practice, as has his experience in adapting to his third offense in just over three years.
"Jeff’s been through change before," Muschamp said, "so I think the more times you go through that stuff you kind of can handle it and move forward. The maturity takes over."
Nothing has shown Driskel's maturity this spring better than the way he has moved past the injuries and struggles that have hindered his Florida career.
He entered last season firmly believing he had reached a turning point. Then Miami happened, then he felt a pop, then his season was over.
"I thought I was going to have a really good year," he said. "I was throwing the ball well. Had a couple mistakes, costly mistakes, especially in that Miami game. But I felt like I was throwing the ball well. To have it all taken away was tough. ...
"I didn't really feel helpless. Discouraged, I would say, but not helpless. It was tough. It was tough. You know, you work in the whole offseason for the season and then you're excited for it, you think you're going to play well, and the next thing you know it's gone."
Gone, but not forgotten.
Muschamp has stood by Driskel and still believes in his talent. If there was one good thing that came from Driskel's short and turbulent 2013 season, it was Muschamp's faith in the heart and leadership that Driskel showed.
"To walk off the field after what happened to him?" the coach said. "Those doctors told me that's amazing. He's got great respect from his teammates because of the toughness he has."
Driskel's teammate and roommate, offensive lineman Trip Thurman, has seen it all up close -- the struggles, the rehab and now, the bounce-back on the spring practice fields.
"He just looks confident out there," Thurman said. "He knows this is his year. I know he doesn't like ending [last] season the way he did."
It's been a long road back, but Driskel says he is 100 percent. He might as well be talking about his confidence as much as his mended right leg.
All that's left to do this spring is get back on Florida Field in front of thousands of fans.
"I want to show everyone that I'm having fun out there playing the game," Driskel said.
A fun offense at Florida? Now that's a sure way to win back some fans.
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