John Brantley's Injury, Jeff Driskel, And Coming Of Age In Death Valley

Most blue-chip freshman quarterbacks see their first starts against less-than-impressive defenses. With John Brantley out for at least one game, Florida's Jeff Driskel will not be afforded the same luxury. Have fun in Baton Rouge, Jeff.

The No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2011 class according to Rivals.com, Jeff Driskel had his pick of SEC schools. He zeroed in on Auburn and Florida, decided on the Gators in April 2010, and maintained his commitment after last winter's coaching change. After John Brantley's gruesome, but perhaps not as bad as originally feared, injury, it appears that Driskel will get the first start of his career this coming Saturday.

From 2006 to 2009, seven five-star quarterbacks have started a game during their true freshman season. The last two years, there were no five-star freshman quarterbacks, though last season the top two four-star players on the list, BYU's Jake Heaps and Penn State's Rob Bolden, both earned starts. From this list of nine quarterbacks -- Georgia's Matthew Stafford, Arkansas' Mitch Mustain, Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Michigan's Ryan Mallett, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, USC's Matt Barkley, Heaps and Bolden -- almost everybody got at least one freebie before having to dive into the deep end:

  • Matthew Stafford's first start at Georgia in 2006 came against UAB (Def. F/+ rank: 82nd). He went 10-for-17 for 107 yards, got sacked once and scored a short touchdown on the ground. For the season, he completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,749 yards (6.8 per pass), seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and Georgia went 9-4.
  • In 2006, Mitch Mustain began what was expected to be a long, esteemed tenure as Arkansas' starting quarterback with a nine-for-17 performance against Utah State (Def. F/+ rank: 116th). He threw for 119 yards and was sacked once. He won all eight of his starts, completing 52 percent of his passes for 694 yards (6.8 per pass), 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • After splitting time with Sean Glennon, Taylor earned his first start against Ohio (Def. F/+ rank: 96th). He completed 18 of 31 passes for 287 yards in a 28-7 win, though he was sacked three times. Continuing to split time with Glennon, Taylor completed 54 percent of his passes for 927 yards (6.9 per pass), five touchdowns and three interceptions. A top dual-threat quarterback, he also rushed for over 500 yards, not including sacks.
  • Jimmy Clausen was starting by his second game in South Bend. Coached by current Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, he completed 17 of 32 passes for 144 yards versus Penn State (Def. F/+ rank: 37th) but was sacked six times in a 31-10 loss. It was the story of the season; the Notre Dame line allowed 58 sacks that season, most of which came at Clausen's expense. He managed to complete 56 percent of his passes for 1,254 yards (5.1 per pass), but the Irish had to endure a 3-9 season, their worst since 1962.
  • Subbing in for the injured Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett's first start came against Clausen's dreadful Irish (Def. F/+ rank: 38th). He completed just seven of 15 passes for 90 yards, but three of his completions went for touchdowns in an easy, 38-0 win. Starting a few games and getting spot time in many others, he completed just 43 percent of his passes for 892 yards (6.3 per pass), seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
  • Matt Barkley was starting from day one, thanks to an injury to Aaron Corp. His first five possessions against San Jose State (Def. F/+ rank: 95th) netted no points, but he eventually got the Trojans rolling. In a 56-3 win, he completed 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he would throw for 2,735 yards (7.8 per pass), 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
  • Jake Heaps split time with Riley Nelson for a while (still is, actually), but earned his first start in Game No. 4 after Nelson got injured. He completed 24 of 45 passes against Nevada (Def. F/+ rank: 68th) in a 27-13 loss; when the season ended, he had thrown for 2,316 yards (6.0 per pass), 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • Bolden's first start was easy enough: a 44-14 win over FCS Youngstown State that saw him complete 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception. Splitting time with Matt McGloin, he would complete 58 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards (7.0 per pass), five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

In the list above, only two quarterbacks got their first career starts against a defense ranked better than even 68th in terms of Def. F/+: Mallett and Clausen. None of them had to face even a Top 30 right out of the gates.

Driskel's first two relevant quarters as a college quarterback came against Alabama, one of probably the two best defenses in the country. His final passing line: 2-for-6 for 14 yards and a sack. He also carried the ball five times for 26 yards. The next four quarters of Driskel's career will come against the other of the top two defenses in college football: LSU. This is a particularly vengeful turn of events.

Honestly, there are two decent examples of blue-chippers quickly facing great defenses: Bolden's second start versus Alabama and Texas' Garrett Gilbert playing almost the entire 2010 BCS championship game against Alabama after Colt McCoy went down on the opening series. Their average passing line: 14-for-35, 165 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions. Against LSU, that might be just about the best Driskel can hope for, though I will be shocked if he throws that many times. One just has to hope that these are the only similarities Driskel shares with Gilbert and Bolden, as they have had two of the most disappointing careers on this list.

John Brantley was starting to get somewhere as Florida's signal caller. At the time of his injury, he was completing 65 percent of his passes at 9.2 yards per pass, and he had thrown a respectable three interceptions in 102 attempts. Watching his injury in real time, it was easy to assume he was lost for the season, and while that may not actually be the case, his absence is, to say the least, ill-timed.

Driskel will now be thrown to the wolves in Baton Rouge, and history suggests the result may not be pretty. If Brantley only misses a game or two, however, the timing could be worse. If you figured Florida was going to lose in Baton Rouge even with Brantley, then missing him now might be better than missing him later, when away-from-home games versus East rivals Georgia and South Carolina loom.

The Morning Tailgate runs weekdays. Catch up on the archives here.

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