- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Somehow, Tyler Murphy didn't complain or pout.
For three-plus seasons at Florida, Murphy bided his time, standing behind five quarterbacks until the first quarter of Saturday's matchup with rival Tennessee. The fourth-year junior had a higher number on his jersey (3) than official passes in his career (0) until starter Jeff Driskel broke his fibula less than six minutes into Saturday's game.
The longtime backup looked shaky on his first two drives, but he led the Gators to 17 points to close the first half of Florida's 31-17 win over the Vols. Granted, Tennessee's defense was fresh off giving up 59 points and nearly 700 yards to Oregon the week prior, but Murphy's fill-in performance was impressive. He threw for 134 yards, ran for 84 and totaled two touchdowns.
The drive after his first career touchdown pass (a 52-yard screen to Solomon Patton) he messed up the cadence and took a snap to the face mask. At halftime, word spread that Murphy was the new starting quarterback. By the fourth quarter, students were chanting his name.
"It was sloppy, but a win's a win," Murphy said.
Murphy went from thinking he'd never throw a pass as a Gator to leading Florida to its first SEC win of the year. It was a long road, but Murphy stayed strong as he watched three quarterbacks, a tight end and an all-purpose utility man throw passes before he could put the clipboard down.
"It was tough sitting on the sidelines," Murphy said. "Sometimes you have to be patient when you come to a big football school like this. They're always going to bring in the best guys in the country."
The former Wethersfield, Conn., quarterback was a three-star athlete during his high school days. As a senior, he threw for more than 1,100 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran the ball 130 times for 1,213 yards and 15 more scores. Murphy also had 251 punt return yards and returned nine kickoffs for 316 yards, including a long of 80 yards.
A former Temple commit, Murphy wasn't recruited by Florida until January 2010 after sending his film the previous fall. With Florida missing out on another quarterback prospect, former coach Urban Meyer started digging through tape and perked when he found Murphy's.
"I'm just watching videotape and we watched 15 quarterbacks — one right after another — and all of a sudden five or six of us are watching it and said, 'Whoa, run that one back,' " Meyer said on national signing day in 2010. "All of a sudden, we got a little feel for him as a player.
"We went out and tried to find the best dual-athlete we could find that was still available and you watch his highlight film ... kind of a freakish athlete with the ball in his hands, and he can throw it."
With just two other offers from FBS schools -- Syracuse and Temple -- Murphy was a relative unknown, but there was comfort with his Florida recruitment because former offensive coordinator Steve Addazio attended grade school with Murphy's father.
Murphy said "a lot of people" suggested he change positions, but Murphy said he couldn't bring himself to such a thought.
"I love playing quarterback," he said. "I've played that all my life and I took a lot of pride in playing quarterback. … I thought if I changed positions I would have given up on myself and I probably wouldn't have been able to live with myself."
He would have regretted transferring, too. Even at an ego-driven position like quarterback, Murphy said he had too many friends and enjoyed his time at Florida too much to leave. Even though he thought he might never throw a collegiate pass, Murphy said he approached every snap as if he was the starter.
"There's not many guys like that in this society," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Everybody wants it now."
In a cruel twist of fate, it paid off for Murphy, who was thrust into the No. 2 spot after Jacoby Brissett transferred from Florida to NC State earlier this year.
"You never know how things are going to work out in life," Muschamp said.
"The good Lord works in mysterious ways."
Fans cheered Murphy's unexpected arrival, but there was a reason Driskel was the starter. He earned it last fall and kept it until Tennessee defensive end Marlon Walls fell on his right leg on Saturday. This offense is still an enigma, and throwing an inexperienced quarterback who hasn't been through the riggers of the SEC like Driskel out there only increases the questions and skepticism.
No one knows if this will have a fairy-tale finish for Murphy and the Gators.
"We have a ton of trust in Tyler," Patton said. "We have a lot of confidence in him.
"Like Muschamp said, when your number is called you have to be ready. In practice, he gets good reps and he does awesome in practice so I wasn't surprised when he stepped in and did an awesome job."