Florida Gators have been own worst enemy in recent defeats

photo Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) makes a pass under pressure from Miami defensive lineman Curtis Porter during their game on Sept. 7. Miami took advantage of five turnovers to win 21-16.

Florida has lost three games since the start of the 2012 football season - to Georgia last October, to Louisville in January's Sugar Bowl and at Miami 11 days ago.

It can be argued that the Gators were beaten by the Gators on all three occasions.

Florida has been its own worst enemy in its most recent setbacks, totaling a staggering 14 turnovers in those three games. The Gators had 413 yards to Miami's 212 but lost 21-16 as a result of five turnovers, and they've had extra time to think about their miscues with an open date leading into this week's game against visiting Tennessee.

"No one has really been able to stop us when we haven't had a turnover or a penalty," Gators junior quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We're just worrying about us first and taking care of the other team second. If we can handle us, we'll be fine.

"On a bye week, you really do work on yourself before you get into the opponent, so that timed out well for us."

Driskel has completed an impressive 39 of 55 passes for 444 yards through a 1-1 start that includes a 24-6 opening win over Toledo. Yet the 6-foot-4, 237-pound junior lost a late fumble at Miami and threw two interceptions.

The Gators have scored just four touchdowns in 12 trips to the red zone so far, leaving Driskel's teammates having to answer questions about whether their quarterback is capable of leading a top-flight offense.

"We have confidence in Driskel," sophomore tailback Matt Jones said. "We get down there and break down in protection sometimes. We really beat ourselves in the red zone. We moved the ball up and down the field and had a lot of yards, but the trust is still there with Driskel."

Driskel never displayed a consistent brilliance to match Florida's sparkling 11-1 regular-season record a year ago, but he kept putting the Gators in position to win. Florida suffered only four turnovers in the first seven games before committing six against Georgia, when Driskel lost a fumble and was intercepted twice.

If there was a growing-up moment last season for Driskel, it was in the second game at Texas A&M, when he rallied the Gators from a 17-7 deficit to a 20-17 win. If there was anything that resembled a coming-out party, it was the following week at Tennessee, when he threw for 219 yards and rushed for 83 as the offense clicked in a 37-20 triumph.

"I think we went into halftime losing," Driskel said of the trip to Knoxville. "We came out and really poured it on in the second half. We had a bunch of big plays, and I remember it being a lot of fun. Beating Tennessee is always fun."

A win by the Gators inside the Swamp this weekend would be Florida's ninth straight in the series.

While Florida players rested last weekend, the Volunteers were getting shellacked 59-14 at Oregon. A lot of Gators watched that game and expect Tennessee to be improved this Saturday.

"I think they get lined up a lot better this year," Driskel said of UT's defense. "Last year they kind of had some busts in their alignments. I think they know what they're doing a lot better this year."

Said coach Will Muschamp: "We'll get Tennessee's best effort. Oregon has a good football team, and we just need to take care of Florida."

The Gators had their share of successful long passes against the Hurricanes but only two 12-yard gains in their rushing attack. Jones made his season debut in Miami after recovering from a stomach virus in preseason camp that caused him to lose 12 pounds.

Jones had 47 yards on 18 carries at Miami, and he insists he has gained more strength with the open date.

"I want to take this team on my back now," Jones said. "I have big expectations going into this game. We have moved the ball up and down the field, so I don't think there is anything wrong with our offense.

"We've moved the ball great. We just have to work on turnovers and ball security."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.