NEW ORLEANS >> Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel is trying to be a good sport about the attention paid to his bid for redemption, even if it means repeatedly addressing all the things that didn't go right at Florida.
Passing for 3,575 yards and 24 touchdowns, he has helped lead the Bulldogs (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) to the New Orleans Bowl against Arkansas State (9-3, 8-0 Sun Belt) on Saturday. Now he figures he shouldn't shy away from the chance to serve as inspiration to other players whose careers aren't progressing as expected.
"There were plenty of people when I was at Florida that said, 'You can't do this. ... You're done. Go get an insurance sales job,' or something like that," Driskel recalled. "If you really want something and you're willing put in the effort, I believe that you can do anything you put your mind to."
Driskel will end his college career in the Superdome, where his 2012 Florida squad was routed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
At 6-foot-4, with a strong arm and good foot speed, Driskel arrived at Florida as a coveted dual-threat recruit. But after the promise he showed as a sophomore in 2012, an injury derailed his 2013 season and 2014 saw him relegated to the bench at times.
Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon said Driskel's drive and humility made him an immediate hit in Ruston.
"The first day we ever ran (sprints), he was leading everybody," Dixon said. "He came in with a chip on his shoulder. He prepared well. He throws the ball very well. I think he's got a cannon of an arm and I think he's one of the great quarterbacks to ever play at Louisiana Tech."
Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson's opportunistic defense has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, coming up with 26 interceptions. But Anderson expects Driskel to present new challenges.
"He'll be the biggest quarterback we've chased around all year," Anderson said. "He's got the size, arm strength, mobility. ... You can see that he's a very poised, mature quarterback."
Here are some things to know about the New Orleans Bowl:
SCORING MACHINE: With 83 career touchdowns, Louisiana Tech's Dixon is tied for second on the NCAA career list, behind only Navy's Keenan Reynolds, who has 85. Dixon's 4,378 career yards rushing make him the active leader at college football's top level. Hampered by an ankle injury, he's still contributed 968 yards and 17 TDs rushing this season. "This is definitely one of my favorite seasons," Dixon said. "I know my stats weren't like I would want ... but I got to enjoy this last time with my brothers and we can see that we've turned the program around."
MULTIPLE OFFENSE: With versatile QB Fredi Knighten under center, Arkansas State's offense has used a mix of option, zone read and conventional formations to average 41 points per game. "They really make you play assignment football," Tech coach Skip Holtz said. "It is very similar (to an option offense) in how you have to defend it because they will cover every gap and they do a lot with misdirection."
RUN STUFFING: Tech's top pro prospect might be 312-pound senior defensive tackle Vernon Butler, whom Holtz said is "definitely a force." Knighten has noticed a lot of Tech opponents won't run the ball at him. "We've played against guys who are NFL dudes and he's going to be an NFL guy. We're not really terrified of anybody," Knighten said. "If he makes plays, we'll have to find a way around it."
BATTLE OF WILLS: While ASU's Anderson notes that Tech's defense is "built to stop the run," he appears committed to a ground attack that has averaged 236.7 yards per game. "We can't panic and give up on the run even if it's not good early," Anderson said. "Our conditioning and our style of play has got to take hold."
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION: In 2011, Knighten was named Arkansas' best high school player and Dixon finished second in the voting. They've never played each other and nearly wound up as college teammates, but Dixon ultimately chose Tech over Arkansas State because of uncertainty about then-Red Wolves coach Hugh Freeze's future.