Florida's new quarterback quandary: After Jeff Driskel, who's next up?

USA TODAY Sports

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is unequivocally the man for the Gators. That's kind of the problem.

For my money, the most important sequence of Florida's spring ... whatever that was on Saturday was what happened when Tyler Murphy helmed the first-team offense for a scrimmage session. Instantly, there was a fumble return by Brian Poole that would have gone for a touchdown had the play happened on a fall Saturday; before he was mercifully removed from the controls, Murphy would've taken a few sacks had his jersey been Georgia red instead of DO NOT TOUCH red.

But Tyler Murphy is still probably Florida's backup quarterback behind Jeff Driskel. And entering a 2013 season with legitimate SEC Championship Game and national title dreams, that is terrifying for the Gators.

2012 was Florida's greatest ever test of one adage about football. "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't really have one" was mostly wrong for those Gators, given that Driskel was the starter from the moment he was entrusted with the first half against Bowling Green, and Jacoby Brissett was still good enough to avert a disaster against Louisiana-Lafayette and steer the ship against Jacksonville State. Florida didn't have two quarterbacks on even footing, and it didn't have the rancor that comes with two quarterbacks staking claims to the starter's job.

2013 is going to be a test of a nearly inverse statement: If you don't have two quarterbacks, what do you do if your number one gets hurt? There's no Brissett on the roster to rescue Florida if one of hits Driskel takes, unlike all but one of the dozens he took last season, knocks him out in a close game, or before a big one, and there doesn't seem to be a candidate to be that guy, either. Just look at the horses in the race to be Driskel's backup.

  • Murphy has zero snaps of game experience at Florida, and was buried at third or below on the depth chart from the moment he enrolled in 2010 until the moment Brissett announced his transfer. He's not tiny, but his height being listed at 6'2" seems like an exaggeration. And though Murphy came to Florida with a reputation as an excellent athlete, he's seemed very much like a pocket passer in the few practices I've seen him in.
  • 2012 recruit Skyler Mornhinweg is to Florida what Clint Trickett is to Florida State: The slightly-built son of a coach whose destiny is likely to be a very good emergency backup or an underwhelming first option. Trickett's been alternately good (throwing bombs against Oklahoma in 2011) and awful (you saw the Florida-Florida State game last year) for the Seminoles, and balsa wood envies his frame; Mornhinweg is a little more solid, at 6'2" and 208 pounds, and has a nice clean release, but his arm strength is right around average. I'd love to think Mornhinweg is already ready to be a backup Florida can be confident in, but I doubt he's quite there right now.
  • Jacob Guy is a walk-on that Florida brought in in 2012 as another candidate for a backup role, and he's right off a Hollywood lot when it comes to size at 6'5". But Guy has looked very stiff in the limited action I have seen, and is behind at least Mornhinweg and Murphy.
  • Incoming Max Staver is, much like Guy, a bigger QB, at 6'5", and he's got athleticism that Guy doesn't have. But Staver's only getting to campus this summer, and it's not realistic to expect him to win the backup's job in a month of fall practice.
  • It might be even less realistic to expect walk-on Chris Wilkes, who the Orlando Sentinel reported committed to join the Gators in the fall on Saturday, to do the same, despite his advanced age and maturity. After all, Wilkes comes to Florida from a baseball career that stalled out in the minor leagues, and the former Ole Miss commit was originally part of the high school class of 2008. Trying sew up the backup job in a month seems like a far less daunting task than reacclimating to football to me, and while I doubt Wilkes, a Dr. Phillips product, would even bother trying to come back to football if he didn't think he could do it, it's likely he's mostly around for depth purposes this fall.
  • Trey Burton is not a quarterback, but he did start a game at quarterback for Florida, and in the direst of all possible worlds, he's probably the first position player who would get recalled to the role.

It's impossible, and probably pretty stupid, to handicap this backup race, because there's no candidate whose potential is so obvious or whose development is so advanced that there won't be a competition for the role. But that's also an indication that Florida needs Driskel desperately, and with a road trip to Miami coming in the second week of the season, his coaches will need to start making sure Driskel exits The Swamp in tip-top shape in Forida's opener with Toledo.

My solution to this problem in a video game would be simple, and probably not that different from Steve Spurrier's in reality: Go up big early, and yank the important starters as soon as the outcomes are basically not in doubt. For a Florida team helmed by Will Muschamp and an offense coordinated by Brent Pease, that will almost certainly mean run-heavy vanilla offense, conservative passing that keeps Driskel from dropping deep and giving defensive ends free runs at him, an increased emphasis on ball security that leads to fewer risky (read: exciting) concepts, at least initially, and liberal use of Burton as a wildcat quarterback.

If Driskel can show an ability to stay upright and scamper out of bounds, perhaps the reins loosen a bit by choice. He is, at least, aware of the distance in his rear-view (after spending a year often playing like he was looking back for Brissett, this doesn't surprise me), and he seems committed to doing what is necessary to win games, not doing what he wants and winning games as a consequence.

If a backup steps up, perhaps Pease and Muschamp are emboldened to take more risks, by running the zone reads that Driskel is excellent at or rolling him around the pocket.

But without evidence of either, we should expect Florida's game plan on offense is likely to rely on mashing other teams, and avoiding M.A.S.H. scenarios whenever possible. And while I'm guessing I'm not alone in understanding this quandary, I know I'm not alone it not liking it.

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