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What Does Driskel's Injury Mean For Florida?

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Florida lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the rest of the season due to injury. No matter how well backup Tyler Murphy plays, the Gators no longer are legitimate contenders in the SEC East. Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.
Florida lost quarterback Jeff Driskel for the rest of the season due to injury. No matter how well backup Tyler Murphy plays, the Gators no longer are legitimate contenders in the SEC East. Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.

Jeff Driskel is out for the season with a broken ankle. He is unquestionably one of Florida's toughest players, but had to leave the field on crutches. Unheralded backup Tyler Murphy will play in his stead.   

This is a big loss for the Florida Gators, but not a death blow. Driskel has been criticized widely by fans and media alike (this site included) for his poor decision-making and lack of production.

At the beginning of the season it was the consensus opinion that this team would go as far as Driskel could take it. Through two games, Florida faithful already assumed the worst. Driskel's turnovers killed the Gators against Miami, and many fans bailed on the Driskel bandwagon before the Tennessee game.

Sadly, his injury was met with cheers across Gainesville by fans looking for a spark at quarterback. There is a slim chance Murphy's emergence could improve the team, or he could at least adequately replace Driskel's production. By all accounts, Murphy had a good game Saturday, completing 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and adding another score and 84 yards on the ground. Though he was visibly unsettled on his first two drives and had some embarrassing moments, like the unexpected snap that ricocheted off of his facemask, Murphy recovered and played poised the rest of the game.   

Gators fans shouldn't start a #MurphyForHeisman hashtag just yet. Those too brazen about Murphy's performance need to remember Florida's game last year against Tennessee. In 2012, Driskel (14-of-20, 219 yards, two touchdowns; 8 rushes, 81 yards) was stellar against this team, and that game was in Knoxville. College football teams with established, veteran starters at quarterback rarely do better after an injury to their first-team signal caller. It is hard to win football games in the SEC, and it's even harder to do so after changing quarterbacks and losing an athlete of Driskel's caliber.   

Florida undoubtedly will miss Driskel, but there are silver linings to pull from Murphy's performance against the Volunteers. In addition to his poise, his arm looked good for a former two-star prospect. Surprisingly, Murphy looked quicker than Driskel when he scrambled. The effectiveness Murphy displayed while running the read option is the single most promising development that I saw from today's game. I know it was Tennessee, I know it was only one game and I know the defense was unprepared, but the read option worked, and for a few snaps, it flashed deadly potential.   

In regards to the rest of the season, Driskel's injury most likely will cost Florida a few wins. Will Muschamp's team always has been about the defense, so efficient quarterback play and an average offense will keep Florida from bottoming out in the conference and still keep them competitive against upper-echelon opponents. However, this injury probably knocks Florida out of the SEC East race. The difference between Florida, Georgia and South Carolina was marginal going into the season and only Florida has lost its starting quarterback. That's enough to push the Gators to third. Unless Murphy surprises, the Gators shouldn't expect much success against LSU or Florida State either. The defense will keep the games close, but the offensive firepower will be intermittent enough that UF will lose more of these close games than fans will like.  

It is hard to predict past this season, but the Tennessee game probably will be the last start for Driskel at Florida. He is not guaranteed the starting job when he returns next season. If the Gators have success with Murphy behind center and look better on offense, Muschamp will stay with Murphy next year. If the season goes poorly, the team probably will look to start fresh with incoming four-star quarterback Will Grier. At this time, it is hard to see a scenario that has Driskel leading the Gators again.