GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The 2012 season has been hard for Florida QB Jacoby Brissett.
He lost a seemingly endless battle with fellow sophomore Jeff Driskel for the starting job and had to sit and watch from the sidelines as Driskel led the Gators to an 8-1 record. He made just two appearances, in blowouts over Kentucky and South Carolina, since he started the season opener.
He had to continue to prepare as if he was going to play while at the same time knowing he wasn’t. It was an unusual situation for the former U.S. Army All-American who two years ago led West Palm Beach, Fla/Dwyer High School to the Class 4A semifinals.
"The motivation part is hard, but the one snap away [from getting in the game] is really real," Brissett said. "That’s what I had to take with me going to watch film every day and making sure I’m out at practice really locked in and not just sitting around just waiting for my next rep to go in."
The one snap happened against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Driskel suffered a sprained right ankle when he was tackled by DT Jalen Fields late in the third quarter. The offense, for the rest of the game at least, belonged to Brissett.
And maybe for even longer. UF coach Will Muschamp said he was not sure of the severity of Driskel’s injury. If it’s a high ankle sprain that could mean Driskel would be out for several weeks and Brissett would get the start against Jacksonville State on Saturday and possibly Florida State on Nov. 24.
After a shaky start against ULL -- he was sacked twice and had one incompletion on his first five drop backs -- Brissett settled in and eventually led the Gators on a game-tying touchdown drive. He recognized a blown coverage and hit TE Jordan Reed for 39 yards to the ULL 3-yard line then rolled to his right and threw a touchdown pass to diving WR Quinton Dunbar with 1:42 remaining.
Those are plays he wouldn’t have made had he not been studious in the film room and focused at practice, he said.
"You have to practice like that knowing that it’s one snap away like what happened [Saturday]," Brissett said. "It’s bad that it happened to Jeff at that point in time in the season. I had to make sure that I didn’t, when I got my chance, make a fool of myself and come out and do what I had to do."
It’s because of that commitment that offensive coordinator Brent Pease isn’t worried if the Gators have to go with Brissett for the next two games.
"I’m telling you, that kid has been a pure professional about it," Pease said. "He’s had a good attitude. Even at halftimes, he has suggestions. He’s into the game. At practice, he’s into practice. When he takes reps, he has done a good job. I appreciate his support, and I support him and have confidence in him."
If Brissett is the starter for the next two weeks, he’s got a perfect situation to build his confidence before the FSU game. Jacksonville State’s defense is among the worst in the 121-team Football Championship Subdivision. The Gamecocks rank 100th nationally in scoring defense (33.4 points per game), 86th in rush defense (186.2 yards per game), 110th in pass defense (260.7 ypg) and 108th in total defense (446.9 ypg).
Florida State ranks in the top five nationally in those four categories, including No. 1 in total defense (242.9 yards per game).
Brissett already knows how smothering the Noles’ defense can be. He was forced into action in last year’s game after John Brantley went down with a concussion and ended up completing just 4-of-13 passes for 27 yards. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked twice, but also threw a touchdown pass to Dunbar in the 21-7 loss.
If Brissett has to play, beating the Noles will be a tough task in a difficult season.
"I’ve got all the confidence in him," Muschamp said.